Surveillance - visibility is a trap.


Forms of Power

Sovereign power


Disciplinary power


Panopticon - all seeing

The panopticon is an architectural plan for a prison by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1791).

Properties of the design:

The result: A prisoner will constrain his own behavior with the knowledge that some guard may be observing every action, regardless whether anyone is watching at a given moment. A few (guards) can exert power over many (prisoners).


Disciplinary society

Michel Foucault extends the idea of the panopticon as a metaphor for power and oppression in modern society. He claims that the panopticon is "a way of defining power relations in terms of the everyday life of men."

Control of people:

Foucault extends disciplinary society from prisons into other institutions including hospitals and schools.



The monitoring of behavior.

issues: security vs. privacy

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) - video cameras that transmit to specific monitors (as opposed to broadcast television - the signal is not openly transmitted)



Behind Winston's back the voice from the telescreen was still babbling away about pig-iron and the overfulfilment of the Ninth Three-Year Plan. The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live -- did live, from habit that became instinct -- in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.
From 1984, by George Orwell.
Published by Unknown in 1948


Apple's all-seeing screen

link to article



Fake security cameras



Surveillance Camera Players

video of SCP tour with Bill Brown

Institute for Applied Autonomy



Other readings