Power Structures in Nickel and Dimed

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Power Structures in Nickel and Dimed
The United States prides itself on being a democracy in which equal opportunity and the pursuit of happiness are guaranteed rights for all citizens. There is no uncertainty in the loyalty that Americans have towards this promise of natural, unalienable rights. However, as Michael Foucault explains in Discipline and Punish, the power structures present in society infringe on our rights to equal opportunity and happiness by forcing us to abide by social norms and expectations. Using Barbara Ehrenreich’s experience as a low-wage worker in Nickel and Dimed as an example, it is clear that the power structure of observation that Foucault describes disciplines low-wage workers to behave and live in a way society deems appropriate.
In order to understand the power structures present in her description of life as a low-wage worker in Nickel and Dimed, we need to first understand Michael Foucault’s philosophy regarding discipline and surveillance. Rather than perceive power and discipline as strictly political and authoritative, Foucault believes that society is structured in a way in which constant observation disciplines us to abide by social norms and expectations. This constant surveillance is omnipresent in the sense that observation occurs in all realms of society, from education to sexuality. To further explain this idea of disciplining through constant inspection, Foucault describes Jeremy Bentham’s panoptican, a type of prison in which
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