Panopticon - Essay Example


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The Panopticon was an idea first put forward by the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham near the close of the eighteenth century. Its essential idea was simple: that a building could be designed in such a way that every member within it could be observed from a single point, but the observer himself could not be observed by the people he was observing. The building would essentially be a rotund with a pillar or tower in the middle to house the observer (when he is present) and cells or divided spaces along the outside to house whomever is supposed to be observed. The eventual goal of such a structure would be the self-policing of whomever was supposed to be observed, caused by the constant surveillance of observer (, 2010).
Jeremy Bentham thought the panopticon was a genius idea. He imagined the essential design as being excellent for any people that needed observing, primarily penitentiaries, but also “Prisons, houses of Industry, Work-Houses, Poor-Houses, Lazarettos, Manufactories, Hospitals, Mad-Houses and Schools” (Bentham 1798, 29). His most famous quote on the subject is that the structure could have a wide range of benefits: “Morals reformed - health preserved - industry invigorated, instruction diffused - public burthens (sic) lightened” all through, according to Bentham, a simple architectural idea (53). He thought that all of this could be accomplished because people need constant surveillance to do what is right, to do what they should be doing. He imagined that the efficiency of factories could be heavily increased, because you would need only one manager to supervise everyone from a single vantage point, and thus no one would ever be able to steal from the factory, take a break, or do anything else the manager did not want. ...
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Jeremy Bentham’s “Panopticon” is an excellent example of an idea which might at first blush seem to be good, have economic efficiencies and so on, but when inspected on a closer level is found to be incredibly abusive and dehumanizing. …
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