Currently reading : The Panopticon

The Panopticon

31 October 2012

Author : maxadmin

Pan: πᾶν, pan, “all”, “of everything”

Optic: sight, “seeing

The Panopticon was a Prison and building system, invented by social theorist and philosopher, Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century. The essence of the building(s) surrounded the idea of monitoring behaviour of those under the impression of being watched; or the possibility of being watched. In relations to institutes such as prisons, it was a challenge to traditional takes on psychological control and behaviour…


“Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers. To achieve this, it is at once too much and too little that the prisoner should be constantly observed by an inspector: too little, for what matters is that he knows himself to be observed; too much, because he has no need in fact of being so….The Panopticon is a machine for dissociating the see/being seen dyad: in the peripheric ring, one is totally seen, without ever seeing; in the central tower, one sees everything without ever being seen.”

An excerpt from Panopticism, from Michel Foucalt’s Discipline & Punnish: The Birth of the Prison

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