Panopticism and the Internet

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Foucault's theory of power challenges the notion that people wield power in their spheres of influence. Instead, power is diffuse and pervasive, coming from all directions, without any agency to wield. Foucault cites the image of the Panopticon as an example of a surveillance tower with an annular building on its periphery and two windows at the center. Despite its seemingly benign appearance, the Panopticon actually entails a plethora of security features.

Jeremy Bentham

Utilitarianism, a social philosophy rooted in utilitarian principles, has made a comeback in recent years. The revelations about Edward Snowden's secret surveillance programs have ignited debates about the state of the surveillance state. While Bentham's panopticon was originally conceived to keep prison guards aware of all prisoners, his current conception is arguably the most effective way to maintain security.

The panopticon concept is the idea that people will obey rules when they know that they are being watched. Bentham developed the Panopticon model prison and Utopian Panopticon-poorhouse scheme as examples of how panopticism can influence society. Bentham's vast plans are often considered the most comprehensive fusion of physical and social engineering. Jeremy Bentham's ideas are most clearly illustrated in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-four, which has Orwellian overtones.


Michel Foucault's concept of panopticism is a poststructuralist notion that has found a place in popular discourse. It has been applied to the study of the Internet, where the panopticon and the Internet make similar assumptions about how subjecthood is constructed. This discussion will consider the role of the panopticon in our everyday lives. Foucault's definition of panopticism can help us better understand how the Internet affects our lives.

Bentham's concept of the Panopticon is a paradigmatic example of a disciplinary society, and Foucault took it a step further by developing and relating it to other systems. He clarifies the power of the Panopticon and builds its tower and mechanism. Foucault's Panopticism shows the repercussions of this system, and challenges the power of our institutions.

Foucault's theory

The term panopticism is usually associated with prisons, but it can refer to other institutions as well. The idea of a panopticon traces its origins to the mid-19th century, when Jeremy Bentham proposed the Panopticon as an alternative to traditional prison systems that contained prisoners in dungeons. The modern, progressive democratic state needed a different kind of system for controlling its prison population. The Panopticon incorporated powerful internalized coercion, by ensuring constant observation of all prisoners and preventing the escape of individuals.

In addition to state surveillance, the Panopticon involves the exercise of power over the citizen's body. Basturk (2017) explains the panopticon as a process of handling the body, with the goal of standardising behaviour. Classical sovereignty would kill the body, but a modern interpretation of the term "sovereignty" would preserve life. The theory of panopticism thus ties into the liberal dilemma of states controlling supposedly free societies.

Bentham's prison system

In the mid-1700s, an English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, invented a new type of social control, dubbed the "Panopticon". It was designed to allow maximum surveillance of prisoners while requiring few guards. The prison cells were arranged in a ring-shaped building. Prison guards and inmates could neither see each other nor see the tower. Bentham believed that constant surveillance would change society.

A prison in Bentham's utopian vision would be characterized by glass-faced office buildings that surround interior lawns and contain personnel. This system was later adapted by many countries for a variety of purposes, including a surveillance economy. In the 21st century, this model is more likely to occur due to the increasing number of surveillance technologies. Shoshanna Zuboff explains that "surveillance capitalism" makes this effect more likely.

Foucault's 'panoptic paradigm'

In this thesis, I argue that the 'panoptic paradigm' is an enduring problem for surveillance studies. I begin by examining Foucault's Discipline and Punish, which opens with the execution of Damiens. I argue that during this time, people are largely spectators. Foucault argued that spectatorship is a necessary component of the theatrical performance of power.

July 06, 2022
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