A1 Foucault - February5,2009 Writ340,Manson Assignment1...

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February 5, 2009 Writ 340, Manson Assignment 1 Panoptic Gaze Michel Foucault was a 20 th century historian of ideas pertaining to incarceration among other topics . Using essays written and about people in prison in the 20 th century, we are able to better understand their point of view by applying Foucault’s ideas about identity and social value . In Foucault’s Body of the Condemned he shows us the faults of our conventional ideas about prison . His idea of the “modern soul” causes us to reevaluate identity as a function of what society deems of an individual rather than what an individual considers to be his or her own identity . Foucault argues that the people in power such as the President have more control over our identity than we realize and the purpose of incarceration is to maintain this level of control for a greater political agenda . The mechanics of incarceration alters an inmate’s social behavior among his or her peers and guards . The inmate’s actions are motivated by the fear of not fitting into the acceptable norms of the prison . Foucault’s concept of the panoptic gaze enforces this fear by relying on a common belief system or ideology such as religion . By examining the characters interaction between one another, we are able to see the different social values and levels of hierarchy at play within the penal system . Foucault believed that there was a misconception regarding identity and the power associated with it among American society . The commonly accepted notion of a person’s identity is that it is embedded in the heart of that person . We conclude that this is the person’s soul and it determines the person’s true identity . We also assume that the power to achieve
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what we want from society is born within a person just like the soul . For Foucault however, people do not have a true identity born within them . Rather the identity of a “modern soul” is communicated to people through interactions and their perceptions from these interactions make up an identity . A person’s race, class, or gender is relevant to an individual’s identity as a whole but does not determine it . Instead how a person chooses to behave through his or her actions makes up an identity . Therefore this identity is not fixed and fluctuates as people’s views shift over time . Radical groups like Marxists and feminists believe that a dominant, identifiable group controls the power . For example Marxists believe the affluent upper class and feminists believe men hold all the power . Foucault did not believe people’s identities were distinct and stable enough to be classified into groups let alone capable of possessing different levels of power . For him power was not a possession but instead an action to be exercised .
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