Exercise 4.2: Panopticism
Michael Foucault’s theory of ‘panopticism’ begins with an account about how, during the end of the seventeenth century, a syndic would ensure that anyone suffering from the plague remained locked away in their home. It was the syndic’s responsibility to keep the street under surveillance, and reports information to the intendant of the quarter, until the quarantine is over. However, if the syndic fails in his duty, then they will be killed. The documenting information about each inhabitant reminds me of how our every click on the Internet is registered, for others to scrutinise and take advantage of. By keeping a watch on each person, the state is able to control the behaviour of its society.
Foucault continues by refering to Bentham’s Panopticon, whereby a solitary prison guard is able to watch every prisoner by standing in central tower, due to the circular arrangement of the prison cells. By constantly having a bright light shone at them, each inmate was unsure when he wasn’t being watched. Subsequently, this created perception of always being watched. Therefore, they adapted their behaviour, to ensure that they weren’t punished for something that had been caught doing.
Even over 70 years later, panopticism remains a feature of our society, in an attempt to exert control and power over our behaviour. For example, speed cameras are capable of ensuring that we regulate our speed whilst driving, even though there is always the possibility that the camera might not have any film in it. Just the very presence of the yellow camera is often enough for drivers to reduce their speed.
Furthermore, CCTV cameras and automatic number plate recognition record our every move. We even contribute to the surveillance of ourselves and others, by using dashcams and taking selfies. We are creating millions of pieces of data about our every day actions. When shared with others, we are then judged by our actions.
Foucault, M. (1977) Discipline and Punish London: Penguin