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Kraiberg 1 BJ Kraiberg Prof. Jen Cline SOC 101 H21 9 December 2010 The Panopticon: Past and Present Do you feel like you are being watched? Do you feel like a slave to 'the man'? If so, you are not alone. We live within what philosopher Michel Foucault described as a disciplinary society, or a society whose social control is maintained via fear of punishment, sanctioned by social institutions. The level of this control is impressionable enough that law enforcement does not need to be physically present: the threat alone of punishment encourages obedience. From its origin as a 18 th century prison structure to its modern philosophical adaptation and present application, the Panopticon is perhaps the best concept to illustrate the creation of an omniscient presence of power as a control tactic. Jeremy Bentham penned the initial concept of the Panopticon in 1787. He designed a circular prison structure, with cells around the circumference, surrounding an inspector's lodge tower, placed directly in the center of the circular building. He referred to this structure not as a Panopticon, but as 'The Inspection House'. The intent of the design was to facilitate, as Bentham wrote in a series of letters, é?? he apparent omnipresence of the inspector...combined with the extreme facility of his real presence(Bentham). By housing the inspector in a tower overlooking each cell, he could in effect observe every cell mate without the cell mates knowing for certain if he was actually doing so. He writes, “The essence of it consists, then, in the centrality of the inspector's situation, combined with the well-known and most effectual contrivances for seeing without being seen(Bentham). Bentham placed great importance on the psychological effect of being under observation. “[T]he greater chance there is, of a given person's being at a given time actually under inspection, the more strong will be the persuasion - the more intense, if I may say so, the feeling, he has of his being so he continues


Kraiberg 2 (Bentham). While Jeremy Bentham's design is best recognized for leading prison reform in a more humanitarian direction, his thoughts also paved the way for others to better express a growing concern for modern society. In 1975, a French philosopher by the name of Michel Foucault wrote a book entitled “Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison in which he adopted Bentham's principle idea with a chapter entitled Panopticism. Although Bentham had suggested that his design could benefit hospitals and schools as well, it was Foucault who popularized the transcendence of the panoptic schema, as he called it. “[The Panopticon] is polyvalent in its applications; it serves to reform prisoners, but also to treat patients, to instruct schoolchildren, to confine the insane, to supervise workers, to put beggars and idlers to work...Whenever one is dealing with a multiplicity of individuals on whom a task or a particular form of behaviour must be imposed, the panoptic schema may be used,concludes Foucault (Foucault). Furthermore, Foucault toyed with the idea that the panoptic schema could blueprint a transparent utopia. 鍍 A]ny panoptic institution, even if it is as rigorously closed as a penitentiary, may without difficulty be subjected to such irregular and constant inspections: and not only by the appointed inspectors, but also by the public; any member of society will have the right to come and see with his own eyes how the schools, hospitals, factories, prisons function(Foucault). He then goes on to say that 鍍 anopticism is the general principle of a new 'political anatomy' whose object and end are not the relations of sovereignty but the relations of discipline. The celebrated, transparent, circular cage, with its high towers powerful and knowing, may have been for Bentham a project of perfect disciplinary institution; but he also set out to show how one may 'unlock' the disciplines and get them to function in a diffused, multiple, polyvalent way throughout the whole social body(Foucault). Foucault was arguing that the Panopticon acts as a terrific metaphor for social control outside of prisons as well. Media, parenting, schools, any agents of socialization are capable of instituting the panoptic schema. Foucault was not the only thinker to imagine the panoptic schema in reference to society at


Kraiberg 3 large. Every high school student today should be familiar with George Orwell's 1949 novel entitled 鍍 ineteen Eighty-Four in which Orwell crafts a panoptic dystopia. Orwell explores the negative potential Panopticism could have on our society, one where an omniscient totalitarian figure head known as Big Brother keeps a watchful eye on the super state of Oceania through a personality cult maintained by the Inner Party, the upper 2 per cent of society. The middle class Outer Party and lower class Proles are required to have two way television sets called telescreens in their homes that allow the Inner Party to monitor behavior and play propaganda. These telescreens are not allowed to be turned off, and citizens must live knowing that the Inner Party could be observing them at any time (Orwell). The phrase “Big Brother is watching you” has since become common satirical vernacular used to comment on the influx of overbearing surveillance practices, in reference to Orwell's novel. There is also a(n awful) British reality television show in which contestants live in a locked house with cameras capturing their every move, fittingly entitled “Big Brother The recently popular television series 鍍 osthas incorporated references to the Panopticon as well, and even naming a character after Jeremy Bentham, the original prison designer. In today's technology ridden environment it is easy to see how the Panopticon has become a popularized metaphor. Online social networking is redefining the concept of privacy. Employers prying into workers' private lives via Facebook is almost a status quo. It is more shocking to not see security cameras overlooking customers than ever before, and many public spaces have begun implementing surveillance as well. New York City government is currently building a network of over 100 street cameras and state of the art terrorism prevention tools such as computer controlled road blocks. The “Ring of Steel as it has been dubbed, will stream live video 24 hours a day to the New York Police Department, and has the potential to use face recognition technology. A similar system already exists in England (Buckley). Cities across the country have created 鍍 lue light neighborhoods or areas of the city that are particularly prone to violent crime where police have implemented public security


Kraiberg 4 cameras. The name comes from a blinking blue light on top of the camera that warns citizens of its presence. Most notably is the 鍍 altimore Believe Campaign which in addition to blue light cameras, the Baltimore Police Department decided to accompany the slogan 鍍 altimore Police. 24/7. Believe.with the cameras and throughout the city. Such action is reminiscent of the 1988 cult film 鍍 hey Live where the plot centers around aliens who keep human consumers under control with billboards and advertisements reading 鍍 beyand various other commanding slogans. Whether the recent trends of culture towards adopting a panoptic schema is a detriment to society or is for the greater good is debatable. One thing for certain is that such a comparison is hard to deny, and allows for some interesting conversation. Sociologists and other concerned individuals will long consider the impact the Panopticon will continue to have on society. It is doubtful that when Jeremy Bentham sat down and wrote out his initial concept he could have known the lasting affect it would place on the world. The same can be said of Orwell and the law-makers of today; such influence on humanity is often dreamt but rarely realized. The Panopticon remains a fascinating and an all too often untouched subject.

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not alone. We live within what philosopher Michel Foucault described as a disciplinary society, or a Do you feel like you are being watched?...

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