Bentham and Foucault's Panopticon – Case Study Example

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The paper "Bentham and Foucault's Panopticon"  is a worthy example of a case study on architecture. The Panopticon is recognized as a unique building that was designed in the late century by the social theorist Jeremy Bentham. The name of the building immediately reflects on the function of the building, which was to allow maximum surveillance without the knowledge of the prisoners. The design of the building was conducted as a surveillance machine, where the inmates could not be able to tell whether they are being watched or not. The popularity of the panopticon has since highly increased in the architectural scene based on the fact that it incorporates architecture with spatial power.

This has not been the case for most buildings set up in the eighteenth century because they were mainly built for inhabitance. However, the panopticon is a prison that focuses on the aspect of surveillance in relation to power. This is evident by the fact that the surveillance is conducted in a manner that the inmates do not relate to. The prisoners are aware of the surveillance taking place but they cannot be able to see the people watching them.

This affects the mental capacity of the prisoners as they do not have any control over the situation and the power is placed in the hands of the surveillance team. The knowledge that the prisoners have of being watched does not go as far as to let them know when it is being conducted. This leaves them with a feeling of the paranoia of being watched all the time because the surveillance can be conducted even when the prisoners are in their cells.

The original concept that Jeremy Bentham had was to make sure that certain costs that are needed in the constant surveillance process and this would also enable the inmates to maintain proper conduct. Bentham understood that if the prisoners knew they were constantly being watched would help the reform process and the government in general. Power is understood based on different concepts that mainly revolve as having the power to control others and the environment surrounding them. However, the incorporation of power in architecture brings out a unique interaction between power and architecture.

Buildings are given designs that best suit their purposes and can be able to serve the inhabitants accordingly. Michel Foucault represents his critical review on the aspect of the Panopticon and his interpretation of power. Foucault is highly recognized as a social theorist who believed in the concept of the freedom of the people. The understanding of the effect of power is mainly achieved through the understanding of people and how they respond to different factors. Therefore, Dovey incorporates his understanding of human relations and the knowledge that he has on the archeological systems to create different interpretations of the Panopticon.

The effect of power is mainly in the archeological structure rather than the people trying to influence their authority. However, the main emphasis is based on the fact that knowledge is power. In this case, the Panopticon is built to harbor the prisoners until they reform and they lack the knowledge that dictates the power in the archeological structure. The information on the surveillance system of the building is privileged to the individuals keeping an eye on the prisoners and the people running the building as well.

The prisoners, on the other hand, the prisoners do not have the information regarding the manner in which they are being watched. This provides the controllers of the prison with the power to control the movements and actions of the prisoners. The only information that the prisoners have is the fact that they are being watched but they have no idea of how it is being conducted and this limits their freedom of mind.


Bentham, Jeremy. The Panopticon Writings, London: Verso, 1995.

Bozovic, Mladen. ‘Introduction: An Utterly Dark Spot.’ J. Bentham, The Panopticon

Writings. London, Verso: 1-27, 1995.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish. France: Gallimard Publishers, 1977. Print

Foucault, Michel. Madness and Civilisation: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. UK: Vintage,1989.

Miller, Jacques-Alain. ‘Jeremy Bentham"s Panoptic Device. UK: Verso,1987

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