The Panopticon

Hanba has once worked in a forensic psychiatry unit. During this time she discovered Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon.

The Panopticon was originally designed to be a prison that changes the inmates from within. Bentham belonged to a eighteenth century movement called utilitarianism. The main goal of this movement was to work towards the well-being and happiness of citizens. The aim of changing the prisoners from within to concur with the values of the majority was to increase the overall happiness of all citizens.

The Panopticon consists of a cylindrical building with the prison cells on the perimeter.

Source: Wikimedia commons

Source: Wikimedia commons

At the core, there is a watchtower, where a criminal inspector sits and has a view through all the cells. The inmates, therefore, are never completely alone, since there is always the possibility of the criminal inspector’s eyes are following him. The purpose of this was to create a moral consciousness in the prisoners, essentially making them better people. Furthermore, the watchtower could be accessed by anybody. The prisoners were on display, not unlike animals in a zoo.

What does a lack of privacy do to a person? Does it heal you or make you more of a rebel? The panopticon is an exercise of power. Power of the masses over the individual.

The original Panopticon was never built as such. The concept, however, lives on and has become very relevant in the recent years with the rise of surveillance society.  Hanba often thinks of the Panopticon whenever she has to go to a mall. The CCTV surrounds her, as do glass panels and windows. Every single movement is betrayed and can be observed at a distance. Just like the Panopticon, the modern malls are exercises of power. The power of consumerism takes over, wanting you to conform and at least buy a pair of socks. This experience is heightened at the airport malls.

Source: Wikimedia commons

Source: Wikimedia commons

References and recommended literature:

Foucault, Michel Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison
(NY: Vintage Books 1995)

Salter,Mark B Politics at the Airport (University of Minnesota Press 2008)


One response to “The Panopticon

  1. Pingback: The glass house « THE HANBABLOG

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