Sample Essay On Mediacommunicatio/ Audiovisual Critical Theory
The City and State
Michel Foucault on Visibility and Power
Power analysis is one of the fundamental aspects of Michael Foucault’s philosophical writings. He interprets the power based on the relationship that it creates between society and the institutions in it. Foucault differentiates his idea of power from that fronted by the Marxist. The Marxists view power as a tool of oppression and a form of repression (Foucault 1977, 3). He asserts that the power is not a possession of institutions that can be used and abused for the pleasure of the beholder. The Instead, Foucault focuses on the power, how it is acquired, exercised and operates when individuals interact with the institution that possess this power (Foucault 1977, 1). He sees the power as a strategy that brings forth positive impacts such as self-making and self-determination. He observes that the best place to observe how power works is to understand the relationship that exists between individuals and institutions. He attempts to explain the machination of power by describing how institutions exercise power on various groups and how these groups develop mechanisms to defy and resist this power.
Foucault calls this a new type of power that is exercised through surveillance rather than the system of threats backed by sanctions. Thus his famous statement, which posits that whoever is knowingly subjected to a field of visibility, assumes responsibility for the constraint of power can be generalized beyond the examples discussed by Foucault in various ways (Foucault 1977, 3). This study will generalize visibility, explanation based on family settings, religious institutions, and office settings.
Foucault envisages an existing nexus between vision and power. He says that the power can be efficiently managed and exercised by the technique of visibility (William 2008, 524). The visibility is informed of individual surveillance over activities conducted by oneself. Through the lens that Foucault call panoptical, vision can create power. He defines vision as a process through which people arrange objects in space so as to exercise disciplinary control over them.
Foucault describes the vision and power as two indivisible aspects that result in control of the subject of their masters who are usually in the form of institutions. The subjects are arranged in a manner that makes them easily visible to their master. The visibility is nonetheless not established for control purposes; instead, to create some form of inherent disciple within the subject that make them behave in a proper manner (Williams 2008, 531). Under such arrangements, the subject is put under illusions that he is being observed by the master and should, therefore, behave with decorum. Foucault refers to such a person as a subject in the Panopticon. He exercises this power over himself as the master and the subject. This is a new power that Foucault is establishing. In the new model of power, the master does not exercise control over the subject, there is no social contract to grant power to the sovereign instead, an individual plays both roles of a master and a subject.
Foucault analyzes his new theory of power using institution which he says make individuals develop such behaviors. He cites institutions like schools, hospitals, and prison as a major institution where his type of power is exercised. In prison, the prisoners are always visible by the entire prison warden manning the prison (Williams 2008, 516). However, the wardens cannot see all of the prisoners at the same time. It is natural that various distractions will take place within the cause impeding the prisoner’s visibility to the wardens. In spite of their invisibility, the prisoners do not deviate from their inherent discipline. They cannot contemplate misbehaving or worse still executing a prison break attempt. They maintain their discipline as if they were being watched as they cannot tell when exactly they will be seen. This uncertainty creates a sense of fear that controls the prisoners’ behavior (William, 2008, 516). This fear is what Foucault refers to as machinery of a furtive power.
Prisoners learn how to remain disciplined even at times when they are not visible. The Panopticon in this case reduces the number of people exercising power while it increases the number of those subjected to it. The advantage of this new type of power is that it does not threaten or use force (William 2008, 515). It is never threatened either as a person’s gaze kept it in existence at all times. Through imagination, the prisoner remains visible and power is exercised over him throughout as long she keeps imagining that the wardens are watching him.
The second example that Foucault gives is how visibility creates power relations in the hospital. He argues that hospitals are structures that collect information and separate individuals into compartments depending on their type of disease and the level of sickness. The compartments in the form of hospital curtains and ward system deter patients from communicating with other patients within the same hospital. The structures, however, create a good environment for monitoring patients using such devices as x-rays, evaluation forms and medical records (Foucault 1977, 6). The curtains, for instance, provide the necessary privacy whenever a patient is undergoing an examination. Patients would not intermingle within the wards or cubicle even if they were not under surveillance. The medical records, as well as evaluation forms, prompt medical officers to examine the patient continuously even if the records would never be crosschecked. Foucault says that in such scenarios, people are controlled by their own power of imagination.
Additionally Foucault gives a school scenario further to ground his theory of the new power model. Just like in the hospital where information is collected, students are also separated into different lecture halls. Foucault (1977, 1) argues that they cannot effortlessly see one another while in the lecture hall, what Foucault refers to as the lateral invisibility. However, the lecturer before them can see the whole class with relative ease. The fear of being seen even when the lecturer is facing the chalkboard makes students behave in a manner that comports with the institution’s code of ethics. The visibility theory is amplified when it comes to performing well in exams. Quite often, you will hear students say that it is not the fear of passing exams that make them work hard, but rather the fear of failing exams. Foucault asserts that schools will always publish their examination results for the public to have access to and see how the students perform. In such circumstances, Foucault says the school is simply increasing and multiplying its visibility. When the visibility increases, so are the power that one exercises over himself (William 2008, 517). Students would work hard not to be seen as poor performers even when no one will end up seeing the examination results. In this case, also, exams act as a surveillance method while the students are the objects under surveillance. When students are requested to take the tests, the teacher creates a visibility through which the school differentiates and eventually judge students (Foucault 1977, 4).
More generally, Foucault shows how the mode of visibility changes over time according to the operation of power (William 2008, 522). As stressed through the examples of the Panoptic tower and the cubicle, it is the potential of being constantly seen that “maintains the disciplined individual in his subjection.”
Finally, Foucault explores the media industry and how it is subject to his visibility and power theory. The media transmit information via all possible sources like the internet, print, social networks, radio, and television sets. The news invites more people to what he refers to as Panoptic power. The number of viewers continues to increase, as is the number of cameras surveying and collecting the news for the viewer. This kind of exposure makes people especially public figures to behave in a particular way, which is considered appropriate by the society viewing the news. The fact that these people behave in a disciplined manner because of the camera vindicates Foucault’s assertion of power created and exercised by a gaze (Foucault 1977, 1).
There are various methods through which Foucault’s power model applies in the contemporary society. However, the paper will only deal with three areas of application for this type of power. These include family set up, religious setting, and office setting.
Modern office settings bring about the application of Foucault, power model in virtually all organizations through the cubicle office layouts. Economic recessions and the ever-increasing cost of production have discouraged, organization to spend more money in constructing offices for individual workers. The employees who used to work in closed office layout now operate from open office layout with cubicles separating different departments. Cubicle design allows for easy control and management of office activities. In such office layout, employees are never sure who is passing by or whether someone is listening to their phone conversation. Just like in the Panopticon, the perpetual visibility of these workers makes them behave in an ethical manner (William 2008, 530). The cubicles do not create a center of control; neither do they bring the boss closer to junior employees. However, the mere imagination that is a person of higher ranking might pass by or overhear a discussion makes worker behave appropriately. This kind of office arrangement is capable of increasing productivity of workers in terms of economic utility (Foucault 1977, 3).
Another area of application is in diverse religions that people are faithful to. Virtually all religions assert the presence of a super being that is in control of the world. All faithful must, therefore, obey him and do all that appertains to His teachings and instructions. Failure to comply with these divine rules exposes a person to eternal punishment. Although no one has ever seen or heard of the super-being called God, people’s actions are majorly informed of the consequences of violating God’s command. People also believe that God is continuously watching over them, and any wrong things they do will not go unnoticed. This kind of visibility exerts controls over the human being, which they refer to as a superpower (Focault 1977,6).
Another area where Foucault’s power applies is in the home setting. Technological advancement has seen many houses being installed with surveillance cameras such as CCTV. Visitors who come to new places with little knowledge about its settings will be forced to behave in a particular way so as to avoid being caught on camera. The behavior will be regulated, especially when the owners of the house are away, and the visitor is all alone at home. Although this house may not have been fitted with this type of camera, the visitor will just feel he is under surveillance and therefore carry out his activities in decorum. Foucault’s visibility theory can also apply at the shopping centers to deter theft because of the existing surveillance cameras even where there is none (Foucault 1977, 4).
In conclusion, Foucault’s new power model is hinged on the visibility of the subject and as he says, whoever is visible will experience power constraints. It appears as if this power model is bordered by both visibility and isolation. Whereas visibility makes a person wary of any person who might be watching his actions, isolation increases the intensity of the power over such a person. Through solitude, which is one of the foundation Foucault’s power models one becomes totally submissive to the power that be. Such power cannot be overthrown because there is no other alternative to it. The power is still in the application in the contemporary society. It takes one to subscribe to Foucault’s school of thought, for him to appreciate its application.
Foucault, M. 1977 ) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. A. Sheridan.
Harmondsworth: Penguin.Williams, R. 2008. Night Spaces: Darkness, Deterritorialization, and Social Control. Space
and Culture, 11, pp. 514-532.
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