The Panopticon Theory

The theory of the Panopticon, a prison designed by ‘Jeremy Bentham’ who is an English philosopher and social theorist within the late 18th century. The prison has the concept of having a circular design with a guard/watchmen in the center point that surveillance’s all the inmates in cells around the perimeter making it look as if all of them are watched simultaneously without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being seen. The limitations of the the guard watching all the inmates is physically impossible, however as the prison is designed in this certain way creates this illusion that the inmates cannot tell when they are being watched therefore making them react as if they were, this triggers them to act and control their behaviour 24/7 allowing the guard having full control within his/her grasp.

Below is an example of the Panopticon layout:

Panopticon timthumb

I also found another philosopher and social theorist called ‘Michael Foucault’ in which believed in the Panopticon theory within his book Discipline and Punish that invoked a metaphor of modern disciplinary on societies and their ubiquitous inclination to observe and normalise. The Panopticon makes a consciousness of lasting perceivability as a form of power, where no bars, chains and overwhelming locks that are necessary for domination any more (Thomas, 2012).

Expanding upon Foucault idea, modern day technology has brought this thought of consistent surveillance to current society with sending panoptic structures with CCTV cameras on the people in public spaces. At the point when individuals feel that they are always being viewed they change their activities and conduct with the thought that it will eliminate their own actions. I’ve perceived this when strolling around my daily routine in the university and town center, when I discover a CCTV camera I immediately get to be more aware of my activities and appearance, believing that I’m being viewed. Panopticism furnishes us with a model of a self-taught society, in which we oversee ourselves and control practices without the requirement for steady observation and mediation by an opposing force.

The thought of the Panopticon and panopticism could be utilized in my interactive project by experimenting with the concept of gathering people that are being viewed but yet not knowing they are, which brings this idea of invasion of privacy. The audience who are watching the screen become passive however with my interactive design it becomes opposite to this as its the screen that is watching the audience responding to their current existence and motions alerting an image to extend a hand with a eye combined within the screen when either the head of the audience is not conscious of looking at the screen which links back into the representation of awareness invading online space.


Bentham, Jeremy (1995). Bozovic, Miran, ed. The Panopticon Writings. London: Verso.

Foucault, Michel (1995). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books.

Thomas Allmer (2012), Towards a Critical Theory of Surveillance in Informational Capitalism, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, p. 22.

Wikipedia, n.d. [online] Available from: [Accessed 2 Jan. 2015].