You are being watched.

Again, this blog is (un)fortunately not about conspiracy theories. This will not be about Greys,  or the government.

You are being watched – but not in the way that you might be thinking.

What is Panopticism? First, let’s start with the Panopticon.


This is a blueprint for The Panopticon. An ideal prison proposed by Jeremy Benton. What makes this prison so ideal? The genius lies in the construction.

Benton envisioned a prison where all the cells would be positioned at the far end of the circular structure. These cells would be built with small windows at the back. Just enough to a let little bit of light in to make the prisoners visible. The windows at the front of the cells would be very large so that the prisoners could be watched at all times.

Benton had a brilliant idea when he thought about the watchtower. The watchtower was envisioned in the centre of this circular structure. This could be constructed in such a way that the guards could always see the prisoners – but the prisoners could never see the guards.

To construct this prison in such a way ment that the prisoners would start to act as if they were always being watched. Even if there were no guards in the tower the prisoners would never be aware of that. They would assume that they were always surveilled. The gaze of the prison guards were ever-present. In the end the prisoners would start to police themselves. In effect, a prison could be run by (almost) no guards!

That was The Panopticon.

But what is Panopticism?

In ancient times a king or ruler told the population what was expected of them. He was visible and his commands clear. If his/her subjects did not agree they could ignore the rulers decrees, revolt and suffer the consequences.

The philosopher, Michel Foucault, made us aware of the fact that power doesn’t work in this way anymore. He was one of the pioneers in the thought about discipline and power in modern society. Power relations, not rulers, shape the lives of the everyday man. He explained this by using The Panopticon. Whereas the The Panopticon has to to with external surveillance, Panopticism has to do with internal surveillance¹

Just as the prisoners was exposed to the gaze of the guards, we too are exposed to an omni-present gaze. Power also can not be held by anyone or thing. Power is rather constituted through accepted forms of knowledge. “Power is everywhere” and “comes from everywhere”. This gaze functions as a regime of truth and is constantly in flux and negotiation². This gaze recruits individuals into docile bodies and has a normalising effect.

Each society has its regime of truth, its “general politics” of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true (Foucault 1980:44-55).

Foucault was the first philosopher who saw power not only in negative terms. While power controls, constrains, and forces us to do things against our will it can also play a constitutive role. This form of power, as envisioned by Foucault, that can attach to strategies of domination can also attach to strategies of resistance.

Docile bodies can become agents again by the insurrection of subjugated knowledges.

What does this insurrection entail? At least two things according to Foucault (in Gordon 1976:81-82):

  • historical knowledges that were always there but were disguised by the current regime of truth and;
  • alternative knowledges that were not deemed worthy by the current regime of truth.

We can never be fully free. The idea of the self-made (wo)man is an illusion. However, this omnipresent gaze can be turned around upon itself.


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