This article is available also in spanish here

What is the panopticon and how is it used in modern urbanism

My list

Author | M. Martínez Euklidiadas

The panopticon, a type of prison architecture designed for policing by Jeremy Bentham, has evolved over time under the ideas of Michel Foucault and the new uses given to the concept of preventing human errors. Can the panopticon be used in today's urbanism? Can citizens benefit from policing?

What is the panopticon and what was the original concept?

The panopticon is way of building blocks or buildings that allows the people within a building to be observed without knowing when they are being watched, but knowing that they may be observed.

Bentham's panopticon is a type of prison structure dating back to the 18th century, which allows security guards to precisely do that: observe prisoners from a central tower without them knowing when they are being watched.

History and the use of the panopticon

Although the panopticon was originally the idea of Samuel Bentham for the factories of the 18th century, it was his brother Jeremy Bentham who saw the prison potential. Dozens of prisons were built using this concept.

It was used extensively for centuries, because it allowed a considerable number of prisoners to be monitored with a minimum number of guards. However, the aim of this layout was to create "a feeling of invisible omniscience" Disciplinary societies embraced it.

It was this concept that fascinated the philosopher Michel Foucault in 1975. The panopticon forced prisoners to adjust their behavior. With the panopticon, it was easy to "impose any conduct on any human multiplicity". It was possible to induce conduct through the form.

Disney World's panopticon

In 1987, various researchers wrote a piece on Disney World's use of the panopticon and the development of the urban discipline. The American theme park was an "exemplar of modern private corporate policing".

Its concept of guards who do not coerce you but dissuade the conflict or the incorrect use of the space is the same as that used today in cities around the world, where law enforcement officers patrol the cities on foot or on bikes.

The possibility of their mere presence makes the area safer. Giving citizens the opportunity to inform the authorities of someone else's wrongdoing also works.

Urban policing to combat COVID-19

panopticon

In 2020, society witnessed how it was possible to use the panoptic 'design' to control the COVID-19 pandemic. As illustrated in some publications, "policing is a key function of all public health systems".

During the coronavirus pandemic, policing was key through devices such as digital monitoring, law enforcement agencies and even through informal policing by residents.

Informal policing, a type of panopticon?

In 1961, Jane Jacobs published 'The Death and Life of Great American Cities', a text which highlighted the importance of informal policing on streets, sidewalks and parks, emphasizing the relationship (this time positive) between this type of policing and urban security.

In one of the real-life examples in the book, a man was trying to abduct a child from the street, when a small crowd, made up of numerous residents and store owners in the area, stopped him. It turned out that the man was her father, but this type of informal policing prevents kidnaps.

Informal panopticon-like policing is very common in children's parks or squares, where children can be observed in a relaxed atmosphere as shown in the image at the top of the article.

Although policing by a central authority is the subject of ethical debates, and the prison panopticon concept is as well, many of its influences in informal policing are seen as a form of social progress.

Images | Jamie Street, Mike Walter

Related content

Recommended profiles for you

Remember to activate your profile to network!
Activate profile
AS
Andrea Sorri
Axis Communications
BDM
JS
Juan Carlos Sandoval Pérez
DiKTYA
CEO
Peter Clemons
Peter Clemons
Quixoticity
Founder & Chief innovator
Daniel Lewis Lewis
Daniel Lewis Lewis
Awen Collective
NI
NAGORE ISIDRO REVELO
Inkolan
Business Analyst
DC
Diógenes Casagrande
DC Best Consultoria Telecom
Director
GM
Gerardo Mesa
BM ingeniería
Desing
AL
Alex Lubetskyi
AuxBridge
Director of business development in Ukraine
GJ
Gautam Joshi
IFFCO KANDLA
Middle Management in Instrumentation department
SA
Steven Adnitt
SI Global
Consultant
OG
ONKAR Golande
JCI
Design Engineer
JG
Jesus Garcia
U.S. Commercial Service
Trade Advisor
VN
Vishal Nandakumar
StartUp
VP/Founder
Johnny lee
Johnny lee
Axis Communications
Business Development Manager - Smart Cities/ Critical Infra/ Transport
AF
Alessandra Faria
Axis Communications
Managing Director Brazil
Vikash Mittal
Vikash Mittal
Honeywell Automation India Limited
Sr. Account Manager
SA
Stuart Armstrong
AAG
Managing director
JC
João Canas
IAEM Portugal
President
JESUS ARRUZA
JESUS ARRUZA
SECURITAS SEGURIDAD ESPAÑA
Senior Lead Product Strategist & Innovation
WL
Walter Lopez
PC LAND S.A.
Seguridad de la informacion

Only accessible for registered users
This content is available only for registered users
TO: $$toName$$
SUBJECT: Message from $$fromName$$