360MC: – Thinking Allowed, Michel Foucault

Building on from the initial thoughts of analysing discourse and after listening to the Thinking Allowed, Michael Foucault radio podcast, the theory of power can be associated with many areas within the media. In Foucault’s book Discipline and Punish, as highlighted in the aforementioned radio podcast, Foucault dismisses the idea of having to overthrow the state in order to bring about a shift in power and instead offered an alternate perspective. He acknowledged that power in the Marxist sensibility may have worked in the 17th century as an old regime, but that in the modern age he rejected the notion that power came from the ‘top’ of society i.e. politicians, monarchy, members of State. Foucault instead posed the idea that power is now brought about through ‘decentralised networks of institutions’, such as schools, hospitals and other such institutions that mould and shape our individuality, rather than the traditional views of the state. In these institutions we are taught to behave and act in a certain manner for years of our lives to the point that behaving in such a way just becomes second nature to us. These rules are also reinforced by parents and guardians who were themselves moulded to the previous institutions, leading to a constant repetition to our future generations. In this way, we initiate an overwhelming sense of self-control as we force ourselves to adhere to these principles; what Foucault called ‘disciplinary power.’


The best example of this is probably Jeremy Bentham’s designs for a prison called the Panopticon. This design sees a jail cell system that is constructed to all face inwards with clear windows and a central observational tower in the middle containing one guard. The point of this is to condition the prisoners to know that they could be being watched at all times in order to force them to individually self-discipline themselves. As the ‘inmates come to monitor themselves’ no one holds the power from the ‘top’. The minds of power become incorporated and enveloped in ourselves. This theme of voyeurism is greatly explored on a national and worldwide scale in George Orwell’s dystopian 1949 novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. With surveillance technology on the rise in our own society, it is safe to say that our society has become eerily similar to that highlighted in the fictional novel of Nineteen Eighty-Four. With disciplinary power burned into our minds, we keep ourselves in check and are observed from above to make sure we do. There have even been examples where the higher up in power have used surveillance technology to scrutinise others in the same level of the hierarchy, such as the controversial phone-hacking scandal that led to the closure of the News of the World newspaper in 2012 or more famously the 1970s Watergate scandal which led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation – the one and only case to date of a U.S. President resigning.

In conclusion, power in the media is a constant force that both affects and effects us on a continuous daily basis. We are born into and surrounded by a world of rules and regulations that are both enforced by those at the ‘top’ in power, as well as our own disciplinary power. In modern technology, in mostly e-media, we have to censor ourselves from fear of surveillance from above, such as how we act, what we search, how we convey ourselves in terms of both image and speech, and our own general online identity as a whole. We are all encouraged to be individuals, but these identities we choose for ourselves with the illusion of free-will are often subliminally enforced and guided to make certain decisions based on the environment we live in and the groups we choose to identify with. To fully grasp the extent as to which power has control over us and all of the facets it covers really becomes a snowball effect, as everything can be taken to the next logical extreme and elaborated on to the very inception of power. This concept of disciplinary power in moulding our destinies and futures is one that would be interesting to focus on in the power artefact.


Orwell, G (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four. London: Secker and Warburg.

Foucault, M (1977). Discipline and Punish: the birth of the prison. New York: Pantheon Books.

BBC Radio 4 – Thinking Allowed, Michel Foucault . 2013. BBC Radio 4 – Thinking Allowed, Michel Foucault . [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b038hg73. [11 October 2013].

Unknown. n.d. ‘Panopticon’. [image online] available from: www.constitutioncampaign.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/panopticon.png [11 Oct 2013].

Unknown. n.d. ‘Big Brother is watching you’. [image online] available from: http://blog.gabrielsaldana.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/1984.jpg %5B11 Oct 2013].


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