Saturday, 5 November 2011

Task one - An example of Panopticism

Task one

Write a short, 200-300 word analysis of something in contemporary society that we believe is panoptic, graphic design even better. Use terminology referenced in the lecture and seminar and 5 quotes from Foucault's writing. Seamlessly integrate these quotes and fragmented sentences into the analysis.

An example of Graphic design which acts as a Panoptic device in contemporary society

I was going to use the Change4 life NHS campaign but struggling how to apply Foucault to this. Instead using The Benefit Cheat/theft campaign which I think uses several panoptic devices which I will demonstrate graphically:

If you suspect that someone is claiming Housing/and or Council Tax benefit fraudulently, or know of anyone who:
  • Has not told us that they are working
  • Has not told us that they have a partner
  • Does not live in the property that they are claiming for Or has not told us they have other forms of income, savings or properties for example.
Then please let us know, do not let these people get away with committing benefit fraud

  • a fraud taskforce that checks claims in your area
  • hidden cameras and mobile surveillence
  • improved IT, cross-checking bank accounts and credit reference agencies
  • working with HMRC and local authorities to a single Fraud Invesigation Service which is solely committed to stamping out fraud
  • harsher sanctions and penalties to punish those who cheat the system.

Through his description of the Great Confinement and The Leper colony in Discipline and Punishment, Foucault describes how institutions exercise two forms of social control firstly to segregate, exclude or lock people away and secondly by training people.  

The Department of Work and Pensions are branding or segregating individuals with words such as Thieves and the image of the prosecuted man.  They are also attempting to train people into believing they are being watched and will be caught. 

'Generally speaking, all authorities exercising individual control function according to a double mode; that of binery divisions and branding (Mad/sane; dangerous/harmless; normal/abbnormal); and that of coercive assignment, of differential distribution (who he is;where he must be; how he is to be characterized; recogognised; how a constant surveillance is to be exercised over him in an individual way etc.)' (Page 63)

The campaign promotes the idea that Benefit thieves are being watched or surveilled on several levels by the Fraud Investigation Team, by hidden cameras and also a 'faceless' member of the public  who is invited to report the crime.  This is attempting to operate like Foucault's Panopticon 'induce.... a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power' (page 65) The fact that the DPW is appealing to the general public to report people for benefit fraud makes their power, like in Bentham's Panopticon, 'visible and unverfiable'.

The campaign promotes the motive to the general public for 'shopping' benefit fraudsters is because they are stealing from 'you' They are 'internalising' the responsibility for catching Benefits Fraudsters on to the general public.

Government campaigns such as this one operate on the premise that we are Docile Bodies whereby we become self regulating and self correcting. We are constantly reminded that we are being watched.  We act in a socially productive and acceptable manner for fear of being caught out.


Foucault Michel, Disciple and Punishment (London, Penguin, 1977)

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