Panopticism derived from the word Panopticon. The Panopticon was a building designed by Jeremy Bentham during the 18th century, designed for a multitude of functions (school, prison, asylm). It’s purpose was to observe all its inmates of an institution with out the inmates being able to tell if they are actual being watched. The  inmates were back lit, permanently on display, they could not see other inmates and were under constant watch from the central tower. This building worked almost like a machine, by emotionally controlling people in directly. Being able to see the tower at all times and thinking they are being watched would have a psychological effect on them. They would be on there best behaviour at all times, they could not speak to the people in the room beside them to conspire, in fact the tower its self was the controlling factor it wouldn’t have mattered if it was manned at all because its presence alone would achieve the desired effect. They didnt even have to have bars because they would constantly behave for fear of being caught, they inmates were controlling themselves… Buildings like this are still being used as correctional facilities to day, Presidio in Cuba as show in the two picture to below right.

The concept of the ponocticon was to…

  • allow scrutiny
  • allow the supervisor to experiment on subjects
  • aim to make them productive members of society
  • reform prisoners
  • help treat patients
  • help instruct school children
  • help confine and study the insane
  • help supervise workers
  • help put beggars and idlers to work

This kind visual reminder of a higher power,  can be seen through history. The great confinement in the 1600’s,’ the house of correction to curb unemployment and idleness’ was a move to put people to work, to good use. It was during this movement that the  Asylum was born. There became specialist to deal with the people who where deemed useless to society to put them back to work. The Pillory wasn’t to change people but to humiliate and make an example off. To show what would happen to you if you don’t obey. To be hung drawn and quartered was a way to shock people into behaving the way you want them to, it was also a visual reminder of the kind of power the King/ Queen had over you. ” do as I say or this will happen to you”

All-though the government and police don’t go to these extreme measures to control us today, the ponopticon concept and techniques are still used to shape and control our behaviour without physical presence. CCTV, the thought that we are always being watched was us act accordingly. Our lecture hall, although not as extreme to have us in booths so we can not communicate with the people next to us, we are all sat to face the lecturer, he could see every single face in the hall because of the way of the way the seating arrangement was designed. Open plan offices allow the boss to see what all of his staff are doing but doesn’t actuall have to leave his seat because of the possibility that he could spot what you are doing at anytime, so you just don’t do anything you shouldn’t be doing in the first place.

Just my thoughts

It seems we have been invisible trained from a young age to act as society wants us to with out actually giving us any training sessions. We have been physiologically manipulated into behaving a certain way using the mechanics of the panopticon…

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