The Disciplinary and Punitive State - Political Sociology Week 4
by Alana Lentin, Associate Professor in Cultural and Social Analysis at University of Western Sydney on Oct 27, 2011
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Michel Foucault has been widely credited with explaining how the role of the state in modernity changed from having absolute power over its people to having disciplinary power over them. By examining ...
Michel Foucault has been widely credited with explaining how the role of the state in modernity changed from having absolute power over its people to having disciplinary power over them. By examining the growth of modern prisons, Foucault demonstrated how we come to police ourselves due to the belief that we are constantly watched over by an ever-vigilant state with the power to punish. The notion of panopticism is used to describe this idea and is taken from English philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s ‘panoptical prison’, a prison designed to allow for the observation of the inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. The widespread use of CCTV is an example of the modern day use of panoptical powers. The argument that such tools ensure our security masks the extent to which state powers have been progressively put in place to deny freedom. In particular, since September 11 2001, western states have adopted a range of measures such as the curbing of the right to protest, detention without trial, and stop and search laws. This added to the fact that, in the UK, more people are imprisoned than ever before, that deaths in police custody are on the increase and that anti-social behaviour orders, etc. criminalise large numbers of young people, the punitive and disciplinary role of the state appear to stand in sharp contrast to western ideals of liberty and human rights.
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