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Overview of Foucault's Critical Analysis of the Theory of Panopticon

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In addition, Foucault (1977) dedicates an emphasis on analysing the theory of panopticism. Designed in the late eighteenth century, Jeremy Bentham exemplified the architecture of the prison called Panopticon. Essentially, this is a proposed idea of a prison that introduces a new mode of power using power of mind over mind in the process of ensuring that the prisoners would improve in discipline and behaviour (UCL, 2016).

The structure of this prison does not abide by the conventional principles of a dungeon but rather it operates in the exact opposite way in several aspects. In this sense, rather than making sure that the prison is enclosed with depriving of light to hide, the panopticon was designed to be enclosed while exposing the prisoners to constant surveillance of the prison guards (Foucault, 1977: p3). To quote Foucault, “Visibility is a trap,” (Foucault, 1977).

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The concept of this design is to allow the prison guards to constantly observe the prisoners without being seen themselves. As the structure is built in a way where the slightest noise or flicker could induce a shadow in the watchtower, the prisoner knowing they are being watched all the time would possibly interpret it as the illusion of an observer. Thus, in this case, the power of panopticism creates a situation where the direct practice of power could be voided as the inmates acted upon as the bearers of themselves (ibid). By extracting an example from WNTW, it could be observed that the focus of this governance is fittingly applicable to WNTW. Towards the end of the show, the initially deviant dresses no longer need any constant inspections from Stacy and Clinton in styling themselves.

This scenario could be explained with the power of panopticism in which in WNTW, the idea of being watched was internalized by the participants. For instance, it has become a ritual that the participants are secretly videotaped for two weeks prior to their meeting with Stacy and Clinton in order to capture their ‘deviant’ style. Moreover, the show normalized the action of surveillance and leads participants into incorporating the idea of surveillance into their personal lives even after the show is done. The rules of conduct they adapted from the show include living with the habit of seeing themselves through the lens of the public as if they are always being watched and judged by the public. More specifically in one episode, Jeanine, one of the participants has made this goal explicit: Jeanine: I should always live as if a hidden camera was watching me outside my house. Stacy: I think that’s actually not a bad rule to live by. Jeanine: I think I should pretend someone is always watching me. Hence from this conversation, it is apparent that having been subjected to such intense surveillance of the hidden camera and then the 360-degree mirror, it is remarkable how easily the participants internalize the idea of constantly being watched.

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Overview of Foucault’s Critical Analysis of the Theory of Panopticon. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from
“Overview of Foucault’s Critical Analysis of the Theory of Panopticon.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
Overview of Foucault’s Critical Analysis of the Theory of Panopticon. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 5 Dec. 2022].
Overview of Foucault’s Critical Analysis of the Theory of Panopticon [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2022 Dec 5]. Available from:
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