Tuesday, 6 November 2012


Panopticism is a theory of social control suggested by Michel Foucault. To fully understand the topic, it is important to study the history of the institution. Before the great confinement in the late 1600s, the mad unemployed were socially accepted. This was until houses of correction arrived which aimed to encourage labour and productiveness. These houses of correction however were criticised as all of the unemployed were forced to work together, which included criminals and the mentally ill. This lead to corruption with the mentally stable workers. This concern spawned the asylum in the 18th century. Instead of physical violence, doctors began using subtle mental techniques such as treating subjects as one would treat a child. This meant rewarding their good actions, and verbally rejecting their undesired ones. It is important to note this transition from physical to mental correctional methods. With these new institutions, areas of knowledge such as medicine, psychology and biology began to thrive due to the practice of doctors and psychiatrists. Also, subjects were now taking control of their own conformity.

To summarise, pre 18th century methodology was based around making examples of the unproductive, thus reminding everyone of the power of the state. Panopticism is the modern form of discipline within modern society, which bears greater focus on psychological elements and the idea of self correction. The theory was given name based on the multifunctional Panopticon building designed by Jeremy Bentham. The design was used mostly for prisons, but could also be applied to schools, hospitals and aslyums. The Panopticon is a circular design with cells stretching around its interior walls. Each cell is open at the front looking inside the building, with a small window facing outside to allow in some daylight. Each cell holds one individual, with solid walls either side to prevent interaction or communication with other subjects. Central within the building, and always within clear view of the subjects is the watch tower. This created a mental effect, as subjects feel they are constantly being watched. There is a constant presence ensuring subjects are being productive. Eventually, cell occupants decide it is easier to be constantly productive than risk punishment and ultimately, the need for staff within the tower becomes obsolete. In reflection, The panopticon is a form of psychological torture.

In a less literal sense, panopticism is the idea that we are always being watched. The phrase for this sense is the 'institutional gaze'. This constant surveillance can be enforced through security cameras, registers, swipe card systems (another form of register checking who has arrived at school or work ready to be porductive). We also have the open plan office, deceptively preaching a social sense of community, whereas potentially giving the office hierarchy reign to watch over their workers. We also other areas such as the cult of health. We are made to feel guilty if we neglect our fitness or don't get our five a day fruit intake. There is almost this idea that we are under surveillance regarding our health. Perhaps there is a reason that Gyms often are built with a large window almost inviting spectators. This could be to enforce a sense of guilt when members of the public see people exercising and keeping fit. Perhaps there is also a reverse effect where Gym goers feel they must work hard until they are visibly fit and healthy, seeking the approval of those passing the building. There is also the Facebook gaze in social media. This is the idea that we are aware of the ability to shape our identity through the networking sight. This leads to potentially creating a fictional image of one's self to impress others active on the site.

It is also important to contextualise these theories and understand where they can be relevant to films games and animation. Firstly, this concept of constant surveillance is the premise of George Orwell's novel 'Nineteen Eighty-Four', where individual thinking is categorised under 'thoughtcrimes'. Captivating narrative is one of the key fundamentals regarding our area of study. It is also important to be aware of this constant surveillance, as it could affect our practice. We should be aware of our rights when filming on public property, whilst also being aware of the boundaries we may face. On a broader spectrum, the lecture on 'Panopticism' offered an insight into modern society and the surveillance methods used.

No comments:

Post a Comment