Explore Foucault's idea of panopticism and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of this theory.

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In the beginning of Discipline and Punish: Birth of the Prison, Michel Foucault describes the public torture of an attempted regicide in the mid-18th century. The extreme and spectacular way in which this man was humiliated, brutalized, and killed typifies, in Foucault's view, the pre-modern logic of punishment—that is, punishment as spectacle, or a public re-assertion of the total ruler's power (in this case, the French King).

Next, Foucault argues that such spectacles of punishment have been replaced, in modern nation-states, with a mode best encapsulated by the notion of the panopticon. The panopticon is a prison designed so that a prisoner can always be seen, but cannot see the warden. The prisoner is aware of the warden's presence; he is also aware of his own ability to see that person, who could be anywhere, at any time, ready to dispense his awful power. Hence, the prisoner will police himself; he internalizes this (hidden, yet so very palpable) panoptic power. He will "behave"...

(The entire section contains 619 words.)

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