Inspecting the Bad Society? Bentham’s Panopticon Revisited


In Panopticon; or, The Inspection-House (2008 [1797]), the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham outlined what he perceived to be a model prison, based on the inspection-principle (p. 68). It was centrally about power, the control of miscreants by subjecting them to total visibility. Even more worryingly, he claimed that his model applied equally splendidly to schools, hospitals, and other innocent institutions. In a postscript, he added chapels to his list (1995, pp. 97-100), but one could argue that he had already usurped God. Michel Foucaults influential treatment of Panopticism (1991; cf. Lyon & Bauman 2011) developed Bentham-inspired themes which resonate increasingly loudly in the information age, such as surveillance systems, automatic power, permanent registration, etc. The paper will pursue this discussion in light of the normative crisis facing post-industrial, informatised societies. What would you say, if by the gradual adoption and diversified application of this single principle, you should see a new scene of things spread itself over the face of civilized society? - morals reformed, health preserved, industry invigorated, instruction diffused... all by a simple idea in architecture? (Bentham 2008, p. 73). What indeed! Perhaps Mr Snowden will help us with the answer. References Bentham, J. (1995) The Panopticon Writings. London: Verso. Bentham, J. (2008) [1797] Panopticon; or, The Inspection-House. Milton Keynes: Dodo Press. Foucault, M. (1991) Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison. London: Penguin Books. Lyon, D., & Bauman, Z. (2011) Liquid Surveillance. Cambridge: Polity

Author Information
Alistair S. Duff, Edinburgh Napier University, UK

Paper Information
Conference: ACTIS2015
Stream: Transformation through Information

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon