Nicholas Blake John

The Panopticon was created by architect Jeremy Bentham as an idea for a prison. It was a “peripheral building divided into cells for the inmates, which has a window facing out of the building and another facing the tower such that the backlighting effect would allow anyone within the tower to see all inmates” (Caluya, 2010, p. 622). It was then used by Michel Foucault, a philosopher, when he used the Panopticon as a model for surveillance in society. For Foucault, the Panopticon was the “the pinnacle of what he called the disciplinary society” (Horne and Maly, 2014, p. 18). This idea was constructed in a way that people would understand that they were always being surveyed by a disciplinary society, and therefore would not cause trouble and become docile due to the fear of being punished. For Foucault, the Panopticon is “instrument for enforcing discipline and punishment and a means of defining power relations in everyday lives” (Dobson and Fisher, 2013, p. 308). Having knowledge over a certain individual or group of people means that you can exercise power over those people.

An example of Panopticon is when, “individuals voluntarily enter into employment contracts and are therefore under an obligation to do during their working time as their employer demands. Employers have a corresponding right to check on their employees during work time or as long as employees are using their employers’ property” (Sthal, 2008). Since employees know that they can and are being surveilled while on the job, they need to be docile and constantly work so that they do not suffer any consequences.


Caluya, G. (2010). The post-panoptic society? Reassessing Foucault in surveillance studies. Social Identities, 16(5), 621–633. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504630.2010.509565

Dobson, J. E., & Fisher, P. F. (2007). The panopticon’s changing geography. Geographical Review, 97(3), 307–323. doi: 10.1111/j.1931-0846.2007.tb00508.x

Horne, E., & Maly, T. (2014). The inspection house: An impertinent field guide to modern surveillance. Toronto: Coach House Books.

Stahl, B. C. (2008). Forensic computing in the workplace: Hegemony, ideology, and the perfect panopticon? Journal of Workplace Rights, 13(2), 167–183. https://doi.org/10.2190/WR.13.2.e


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Key Concepts in Surveillance Studies Copyright © 2019 by Nicholas Blake John is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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