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Elevation, section and plan of Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon penitentiary, drawn by Willey Reveley, 1791

The panopticon is a type of institutional building and a system of control designed by the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The scheme of the design is to allow all (pan-) inmates of an institution to be observed (-opticon) by a single watchman without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. Although it is physically impossible for the single watchman to observe all the inmates' cells at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that they are motivated to act as though they are being watched at all times. Thus, they are effectively compelled to regulate their own behaviour.

The design consists of a circular structure with an "inspection house" at its centre, from which the manager or staff of the institution is able to watch the inmates. The inmates, who are stationed around the perimeter of the structure, are unable to see into the inspection house. Bentham conceived the basic plan as being equally applicable to hospitals, schools, sanatoriums, and asylums, but he devoted most of his efforts to developing a design for a panopticon prison. It is his prison that is now most widely meant by the term "panopticon".

Bentham described the panopticon as "a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example".[1] Elsewhere, in a letter, he described the panopticon prison as "a mill for grinding rogues honest".[2]

Contents

Conceptual historyEdit

In 1786 and 1787 Jeremy Bentham, an English social reformer and founder of utilitarianism, travelled to Krichev in White Russia (modern Belarus) to visit his brother, Samuel, who was engaged in managing various industrial and other projects for Prince Potemkin. It was Samuel, as Jeremy Bentham later repeatedly acknowledged, who conceived the basic idea of a circular building at the hub of a larger compound as a means of allowing a small number of managers to oversee the activities of a large and unskilled workforce.[3][4]

Bentham began to develop this model, particularly as applicable to prisons, and outlined his ideas in a series of letters sent home to his father in England.[5] He supplemented the supervisory principle with the idea of contract management; that is, an administration by contract as opposed to trust, where the director would have a pecuniary interest in lowering the average rate of mortality.[6] The panopticon was intended to be cheaper than the prisons of his time, as it required fewer staff; "Allow me to construct a prison on this model," Bentham requested to a Committee for the Reform of Criminal Law, "I will be the gaoler. You will see ... that the gaoler will have no salary—will cost nothing to the nation." As the watchmen cannot be seen, they need not be on duty at all times, effectively leaving the watching to the watched. According to Bentham's design, the prisoners would also be used as menial labour, walking on wheels to spin looms or run a water wheel. This would decrease the cost of the prison and give a possible source of income.[7]

Morals reformed—health preserved—industry invigorated—instruction diffused—public burthens lightened—Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock—the Gordian Knot of the poor-law not cut, but untied—all by a simple idea in Architecture!

— Jeremy Bentham[1]

On his return to England from Russia, Bentham continued to work on the idea of a panopticon prison, and commissioned drawings from an architect, Willey Reveley.[8] In 1791, he published the material he had written as a book, although he continued to refine his proposals for many years to come. He had by now decided that he wanted to see the prison built: when finished, it would be managed by himself as contractor-governor, with the assistance of Samuel. After unsuccessful attempts to interest the authorities in Ireland and revolutionary France,[9] he started trying to persuade the prime minister, William Pitt, to revive an earlier abandoned scheme for a National Penitentiary in England, this time to be built as a panopticon. He was eventually successful in winning over Pitt and his advisors, and in 1794 was paid £2,000 for preliminary work on the project.[10] But in 1801 Pitt resigned from office, and in 1803 the new Addington administration decided not to proceed with the project.[11] Bentham was devastated: "They have murdered my best days."[12]

Bentham remained bitter throughout his later life about the rejection of the panopticon scheme, convinced that it had been thwarted by the King and an aristocratic elite. It was largely because of his sense of injustice and frustration that he developed his ideas of "sinister interest"—that is, of the vested interests of the powerful conspiring against a wider public interest—which underpinned many of his broader arguments for reform.[13]

Prison designEdit

The building circular—A cage, glazed—a glass lantern about the Size of Ranelagh—The prisoners in their cells, occupying the circumference—The officers in the centre. By blinds and other contrivances, the inspectors concealed […] from the observation of the prisoners: hence the sentiment of a sort of omnipresence—The whole circuit reviewable with little, or if necessary without any, change of place. One station in the inspection part affording the most perfect view of every cell.

— Jeremy Bentham, 1798[14]
 
Plan of Millbank Prison, six pentagons with a tower at the centre are arranged around a chapel.
 
An 1880s architectural drawing by John Frederick Adolphus McNair depicting a proposed prison at Outram that was never built.
 
Presidio Modelo prison, Cuba, 2005
 
Presidio Modelo prison, inside one of the buildings, 2005

Bentham's proposal for a panopticon prison met with great interest among British government officials not only because it incorporated the pleasure-pain principle developed by the materialist philosopher Thomas Hobbes, but also because Bentham joined the emerging discussion on political economy. Bentham argued that the confinement of the prison, "which is his punishment, preventing [the prisoner from] carrying the work to another market." Key to Bentham's proposals and efforts to build a panopticon prison in Millbank at his own expense, was the "means of extracting labour" out of prisoners in the panopticon.[15]

In 1812 persistent problems with Newgate Prison and other London prisons prompted the British government to fund the construction of a prison in Millbank at the taxpayers' expense. Based on Betham's panopticon plans, the National Penitentiary opened in 1821. Millbank Prison, as it became known, was controversial and failed in extracting valuable labour out of prisoners. Millbank Prison was even blamed for causing mental illness among prisoners. Nevertheless, the British government placed an increasing emphasis on prisoners doing meaningful work, instead of engaging in humiliating and meaningless kill-times.[16] Bentham lived to see Millbank Prison built and did not support the approach taken by the British government. His writings had virtually no immediate effect on the architecture of tax-payer funded prisons that were to be built. Between 1818 and 1821 a small prison for women was built in Lancaster. It has been observed that the architect Joseph Gandy modelled it very closely on Bentham's panopticon prison plans. The K-wing near Lancaster Castle prison is a semi-rotunda with a central tower for the supervisor and five storeys with nine cells on each floor.[17]

It was the Pentonville prison, which was built in London after Bentham's death in 1832, that was to serve as a model for a further 54 prisons in Victorian Britain. Build between 1840 and 1842 according to the plans of Joshua Jebb, Pentoville prison had a central hall with radial prison wings.[18] It has been claimed that Bentham panopticon influenced the radial design of 19th-century prisons built on the principles of the "separate system", including Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, which opened in 1829.[19] But the Pennsylvania-Pentoville architectural model with its radial prison wings was not designed to facilitate constant surveillance of individual prisoners. Guards had to walk from the hall along the radial corridors and could only observe prisoners in their cells by looking through the cell door's peephole.[20]

In 1925 Cuba's president Gerardo Machado set out to build a modern prison, based on Bentham's concepts and employing the latest scientific theories on rehabilitation. A Cuban envoy tasked with studying US prisons in advance of the construction of Presidio Modelo had been greatly impressed with Stateville Correctional Center in Illinois and the cells in the new circular prison were to faced inwards towards a central guard tower. Because of the shuttered guard tower the guards could see the prisoners, but the prisoners could not see the guards. Cuban officials theorised that the prisoners would "behave" if there was a probable chance that they were under surveillance and once prisoners behaved they could be rehabilitated.

Between 1926 and 1931 the Cuban government built four such panopticons connected with tunnels to a massive central structure that served as a community centre. Each panopticon had five floors with 93 cells. In keeping with Bentham's ideas, none of the cells had doors. Prisoners were free to roam the prison and participate in workshops to learn a trade or become literate, the hope being that they would become productive citizens. However, by the time Fidel Castro was imprisoned in Gerardo Machado, the four circulars were packed with 6,000 men, every floor was filled with trash, there was no running water, food rations were meagre and government supplied only the bare necessities of life.[21]

In the Netherlands Breda, Arnhem and Haarlem penitentiary are cited as historic panopticon prisons. But these circular prisons with their 400 or so cells fail as panopticon because the inwards facing cell windows were so small that guards could not see the entire cell. The lack of surveillance that was actually possible in prisons with small cells and doors, discounts many circular prison designs from being a panopticon as it had been envisaged by Bentham.[22] In 2006 one of the first digital panopticon prisons opened near Amsterdam. Every prisoner in the Lelystad Prison wears an electronic tag and by design, only six guards are needed for 150 prisoners instead of the usual 15 or more.[23]

Architecture of other institutionsEdit

 
"Contrasted Residences for the Poor": a plate from Augustus Pugin's Contrasts (1841)
 
Sampson Kempthorne's cruciform design for a workhouse accommodating 300 paupers.

A wooden panopticon factory, capable of holding 5000 workers, was constructed by Samuel Bentham in Saint Petersburg, on the banks of the Neva River, between 1805 and 1808: its purpose was to educate and employ young men in trades connected with the navy. It burned down in 1818.[24] The Round Mill in Belper, Derbyshire, England, is supposed to have been built on the panopticon principle with a central overseer. Designed by William Strutt, and constructed in 1811, it had fallen into disuse by the beginning of the 20th century and was demolished in 1959.[25]

Despite the fact that no panopticon was built during Bentham's lifetime (and virtually none since), his concept has prompted considerable discussion and debate. Shortly after Jeremy Bentham's death in 1832 his ideas were criticised by Augustus Pugin, who in 1841 published the second edition of his work Contrasts in which one plate showed a "Modern Poor House". He contrasted an English medieval gothic town in 1400 with the same town in 1840 where broken spires and factory chimneys dominate the skyline, with a panopticon in the foreground replacing the Christian hospice. Pugin, who went on to become one of the most influential 19th century writers on architecture, was influenced by Hegel and German idealism.[26]

Bentham always conceived the panopticon principle as being beneficial to the design of a variety of institutions in which surveillance was important, including hospitals, schools, workhouses, and lunatic asylums, as well as prisons. In particular, he developed it in his ideas for a "chrestomathic" school (one devoted to useful learning), in which teaching was to be undertaken by senior pupils on the monitorial principle, under the overall supervision of the Master;[27] and for a pauper "industry-house" (workhouse).[28][29][page needed] In 1835 the first annual report of the Poor Law Commission included two designs by the commission's architect Sampson Kempthorne. His Y-shape and cross-shape designs for workhouse expressed the panopticon principle by positioning the master's room as central point. The designs provided for the segregation of inmates and maximum visibility from the centre.[30]

The Worcester State Hospital, Massachusetts, USA, constructed in the late 19th century, extensively employed panoptic structures to allow more efficient observation of the wards. It was considered a model facility at the time.[citation needed] The panopticon has been suggested as an "open" hospital architecture:

Hospitals required knowledge of contacts, contagions, proximity and crowding ... at the same time to divide space and keep it open, assuring a surveillance which is both global and individualising.

— 1977 interview (preface to French edition of Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon)[31]

Criticism and use as metaphorEdit

In 1965 the conservative historian Shirley Robin Letwin traced the Fabian zest for social planning to early utilitarian thinkers. She argued that Bentham's pet gadget, the panopticon prison, was a device of such monstrous efficiency that it left no room for humanity. She accused Bentham of forgetting the dangers of unrestrained power and argued that "in his ardour for reform, Bentham prepared the way for what he feared." Libertarian thinkers began to regard Bentham's entire philosophy as having paved the way for totalitarian states.[32] In the late 1960s the American historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, who had published The Haunted House of Jeremy Bentham in 1965, was at the forefront of depicting Bentham's mechanism of surveillance as a tool of oppression and social control.[33][34] David John Manning published The Mind of Jeremy Bentham in 1986, in which he reasoned that Bentham's fear of instability caused him to advocate ruthless social engineering and a society in which there could be no privacy or tolerance for the deviant.[35]

In the mid-1970s the panopticon was brought to the wider attention by the French psychoanalyst Jacques-Alain Miller and the French philosopher Michel Foucault.[36] In 1975 Foucault used the panopticon as metaphor for the modern disciplinary society in Discipline and Punish. He argued that the disciplinary society had emerged in the 18th century and that discipline are techniques for assuring the ordering of human complexities, with the ultimate aim of docility and utility in the system.[37] Foucault first came across the panopticon architecture when he studied the origins of clinical medicine and hospital architecture in the second half of the 18th century. He argued that discipline had replaced the pre-modern society of kings and that the panopticon should not be understood as a building, but as a mechanism of power and a diagram of political technology.[38] Foucault argued that discipline had crossed the technological threshold already in the late 18th century, when the right to observe and accumulate knowledge had been extended from the prison to hospitals, schools and later factories.[39] In his historic analysis Foucault reasoned that with the disappearance of public executions pain had been gradually eliminated as punishment in a society ruled by reason.[40] The modern prison in the 1970s, with its corrective technology, was rooted in the changing legal powers of the state. While acceptance for corporal punishment diminished the state gained the right to administer more subtle methods of punishment, such as to observe.[41]

In 1984 Michael Radford gained international attention for the cinematographic panopticon he had staged in the film Nineteen Eighty-Four. Of the telescreens in the landmark surveillance narrative Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), George Orwell said: "there was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment... you had to live... in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinised".[42] In Radford's film the telescreens were bidirectional and in a world with an ever increasing number of telescreen devices the citizens of Oceania were spied on more than they thought possible.[43] In The Electronic Eye: The Rise of Surveillance Society (1994) the sociologist David Lyon concluded that "no single metaphor or model is adequate to the task of summing up what is central to contemporary surveillance, but important clues are available in Nineteen Eighty-Four and in Bentham's panopticon.[44]

The French philosopher Gilles Deleuze shaped the emerging field of surveillance studies with the 1990 essay Postscript on the Societies of Control.[45] Deleuze argued that the society of control is replacing the discipline society. With regards to the panopticon, Deleuze argued that "enclosures are moulds ... but controls are a modulation". Deleuze observed that technology had allowed physical enclosures, such as schools, factories, prisons and office buildings, to be replaced by a self-governing machine, which extends surveillance in a quest to manage production and consumption. Information circulates in the control society, just like products in the modern economy, and meaningful objects of surveillance are sought out as forward-looking profiles and simulated pictures of future demands, needs and risks are drawn up.[46]

In 1997 Thomas Mathiesen in turn expanded on Foucault's use of the panopticon metaphor when analysing the effects of mass media on society. He argued that mass media such as broadcast television gave many people the ability to view the few from their own homes and gaze upon the lives of reporters and celebrities. Mass media has thus turned the discipline society into a viewer society.[47] In the 1998 satirical science fiction film The Truman Show protagonists eventually escaped the OmniCam Ecosphere, the reality television show that broadcasts the lives of the unknowing inhabitants around the clock and across the globe. But in 2002 Peter Weibel noted that the entertainment industry does not consider the panopticon as a threat or punishment, but as "amusement, liberation and pleasure". With reference to the Big Brother television shows of Endemol Entertainment, in which a group of people live in a container studio apartment and allow themselves to be recorded 24/7, Weibel argued that the panopticon provides the masses with "the pleasure of power, the pleasure of sadism, voyeurism, exhibitionism, scopophilia, and narcissism." In 2006 Shoreditch TV became available to residents of the Shoreditch in London, so that they could tune in to watch CCTV footage live. The service allowed residents "to see what's happening, check out the traffic and keep an eye out for crime".[48]

In their 2004 book Welcome to the Machine: Science, Surveillance, and the Culture of Control Derrick Jensen and Gerge Draffan called Bentham "one of the pioneers of modern surveillance" and argued that his panopticon prison design serves as the model for modern supermaximum security prisons, such as Pelican Bay State Prison in California.[49] In the 2015 book Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness Simone Browne noted that Bentham travelled on a ship carrying slaves as cargo while drafting his panopticon proposal. She argues that the structure of chattel slavery haunts the theory of the panopticon. She proposes that the 1789 plan of the slave ship Brookes should be regarded as the paradigmatic blueprint.[50] Drawing on Didier Bigo's Banopticon, Brown argues that society is ruled by exceptionalism of power, were the state of emergency becomes permanent and certain groups are excluded on the basis of their future potential behaviour as determined through profiling.[51]

Surveillance technologyEdit

 
Closed circuit TV monitoring at the Central Police Control Station, Munich Germany in 1973.

The metaphor of the panopticon prison has been employed to analyse the social significance of surveillance by closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in public spaces. In 1990 Mike Davis reviewed the design and operation of a shopping mall, with its centralised control room, CCTV cameras and security guards, and came to the conclusion that it "plagiarizes brazenly from Jeremy Bentham's renowned nineteenth-century design". In their 1996 study of CCTV camera installations in British cities, Nicholas Fyfe and Jon Bannister called central and local government policies that facilitated the rapid spread of CCTV surveillance a dispersal of an "electronic panopticon". Particular attention has been drawn to the similarities of CCTV with Bentham's prison design because CCTV technology enabled a quasi central observation tower, staffed by an unseen observer.[52]

Employment and managementEdit

Shoshana Zuboff used the metaphor of the panopticon in her 1988 book In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power to describe how computer technology makes work more visible. Zuboff examined how computer systems were used for employee monitoring to track the behavior and output of workers. She used the term panopticon because the workers could not tell that they were being spied on, while the manager was able to check their work continuously. Zuboff argued that there is a collective responsibility formed by the hierarchy in the information panopticon that eliminates subjective opinions and judgements of managers on their employees. Because each employee's contribution to the production process is translated into objective data, it becomes more important for managers to be able to analyze the work rather than analyze the people.[53]

 
Problem-solving: Team coordination

Foucault's use of the panopticon metaphor shaped the debate on workplace surveillance in the 1970s. In 1981 the sociologist Anthony Giddens expressed scepticism about the ongoing surveillance debate, criticising that "Foucault's "archaeology", in which human beings do not make their own history but are swept along by it, does not adequately acknowledge that those subject to the power... are knowledgeable agents, who resist, blunt or actively alter the conditions of life."[54] The social alienation of workers and management in the industrialised production process had long been studied and theorised. In the 1950s and 1960s the emerging behavioural science approach led to skills testing and recruitment processes that sought out employees that would be organisationally committed. Fordism, Taylorism and bureaucratic management of factories was still assumed to reflect a mature industrial society. The Hawthorne Plant experiments (1924-1933) and a significant number of subsequent empirical studies led to the reinterpretation of alienation, instead of being a given power relationship between the worker and management it came to be seen as hindering progress and modernity.[55]

 
A call centre worker confined to a small workstation/booth.

However, in 1993 David Steingard and Dale Fitzgibbons argued that modern management, far from empowering workers, had features of neo-Taylorism, where teamwork perpetuated surveillance and control. They argued that employees had become their own "thought police" and the team gaze was the equivalent of Bentham's panopticon guard tower.[56] A critical re-evaluation of the Hawthorne Plant experiments has in turn given rise to the notion of a Hawthorne effect, where workers increase their productivity in response to their awareness of being observed or because they are gratified for being chosen to participate in a project.[57] The increasing employment in the service industries has also been re-evaluated. In Entrapped by the electronic panopticon? Worker resistance in the call centre (2000) Phil Taylor and Peter Bain argue that the large number of people employed in call centres undertake predictable and monotonous work that is badly paid and offers few prospects. As such, they argue, it is comparable to factory work.[58]

The panopticon has become a symbol of the extreme measures that some companies take in the name of efficiency as well as to guard against employee theft. Time-theft by workers has become accepted as an output restriction and theft has been associated by management with all behaviour that include avoidance of work. In the past decades unproductive behaviour has been cited as rational for introducing a range of surveillance techniques and the vilification of employees who resist them.[59] In a 2009 paper by Max Haiven and Scott Stoneman entitled Wal-Mart: The Panopticon of Time[60] and the 2014 book by Simon Head Mindless: Why Smarter Machines Are Making Dumber Humans, which describes conditions at an Amazon.com depot in Augsburg, it is argued that catering at all times to the desires of the customer can lead to increasingly oppressive corporate environments and quotas in which many warehouse workers can no longer keep up with demands of management.[61]

Social mediaEdit

 
Modern day teenagers interacting.

The concept of panopticon has been referenced in early discussions about the impact of social media. The notion of dataveillance was coined by Roger Clarke in 1987, since then academic researchers have used expressions such as superpanopticon (Mark Poster, 1990), panoptic sort (Oscar H. Gandy Jr., 1993) and electronic panopticon (David Lyon 1994) to describe social media. Because the controlled is at the center and surrounded by those who watch early surveillance studies treats social media as a reverse panopticon.[62]

In modern academic literature on social media terms like lateral surveillance, social searching and social surveillance are employed to critically evaluate the effects of social media. However, the sociologist Christian Fuchs treats social media like a classical panopticon. He argues that the focus should not be on the relationship between the users of a medium, but the relationship between the users and the medium. Therefore, he argues that the relationship between the large number of users and the sociotechnical Web 2.0 platform, like Facebook, amounts to a panopticon.

Fuchs draws attention to the fact that use of such platforms requires identification, classification and assessment of users by the platforms and therefore, he argues, the definition of privacy must be reassessed to incorporate stronger consumer protection and protection of citizens from corporate surveillance.[63]

Literature and the artsEdit

  • In Gabriel García Márquez's novella Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981), the Vicario brothers spend three years in the "panopticon of Riohacha" awaiting trial for the murder of Santiago Nasar.
  • Angela Carter includes a critique of the panopticon prison system during the Siberian segment of her novel Nights at the Circus (1984).
  • Charles Stross's novel Glasshouse (2006) features a technology-enabled panopticon as the novel's primary location.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Justice", law on the planet Rubicun III closely follows the idea of the panopticon, with lawmen known as overseers are randomly assigned to a given area at a given time. If a citizen commits any crime and falls within the randomly changing areas of the overseers, the citizen will be given the death penalty.
  • In the TV series Doctor Who, the centre of the Time Lord's capitol on Gallifrey is known as "The Panopticon". It featured heavily in the stories The Deadly Assassin and The Invasion of Time.
  • In the film adaptation of Guardians of the Galaxy, the Kyln, a Nova Corps prison, is based on a Panopticon.
  • In The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, the panopticon is repeatedly mentioned.
  • The third studio album of the American post-metal band ISIS is entitled Panopticon.
  • The book The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks is about surveillance society as virtual panopticon, and how pervasive surveillance by a "benevolent" government can be used as a panopticon after a change of personnel in the government.
  • The TV series Person of Interest has an episode named "Panopticon". The main theme of the show is a all-seeing, super intelligent computer.
  • The band Silent Planet’s full length album “Everything Was Sound” takes place in a panopticon.
  • The book series Magisterium, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, has a prison for mages called the panopticon.
  • In Black Mirror series episode "Nosedive", the plot revolves around a society ruled by a system that follows the patterns of a reverse panopticon, where individuals are controlled by the rest of the society through a mobile application.[64]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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