Jeremy Bentham (15 February 1748–6 June 1832) was an English jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer. He was the brother of Samuel Bentham. He was a political radical, and a leading theorist in Anglo-American philosophy of law. He is best known for his advocacy of utilitarianism, for the concept of animal rights, and his opposition to the idea of natural rights, with his oft-quoted statement that the idea of such rights is "nonsense upon stilts." He also influenced the development of welfarism.
He became known as one of the most influential of the utilitarians, through his own work and that of his students. These included his secretary and collaborator on the utilitarian school of philosophy, James Mill; James Mill's son John Stuart Mill; and several political leaders including Robert Owen, who later became a founder of socialism. He is also considered the godfather of University College London.
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The Panopticon is a type of prison building designed by English architect Jeremy Bentham in 1785. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) prisoners without the prisoners being able to tell whether they are being watched, thereby conveying what one architect has called the "sentiment of an invisible omniscience."
Bentham himself described the Panopticon as "a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example."
"Morals reformed — health preserved — industry invigorated — instruction diffused — public burthens lightened — Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock — the gordian knot of the poor-law not cut, but untied — all by a simple idea in Architecture!"
Bentham derived the idea from the plan of a military school in Paris designed for easy supervision, itself conceived by his brother Samuel who arrived at it as a solution to the complexities involved in the handling of large numbers of men. Bentham supplemented this principle with the idea of contract management; that is, an administration by contract as opposed to trust, where the director would have a pecuniary interest in lowering the average rate of mortality. The Panopticon was intended to be cheaper than the prisons of his time, as it required fewer staff; "Allow me to construct a prison on this model," Bentham requested to a Committee for the Reform of Criminal Law, "I will be the gaoler. You will see ... that the gaoler will have no salary — will cost nothing to the nation." As the watchmen cannot be seen, they need not be on duty at all times, effectively leaving the watching to the watched. According to Bentham's design, the prisoners would also be used as menial labour walking on wheels to spin looms or run a water wheel. This would decrease the cost of the prison and give a possible source of income.
Bentham devoted a large part of his time and almost his whole fortune to promote the construction of a prison based on his scheme. After many years and innumerable political and financial difficulties, he eventually obtained a favourable sanction from Parliament for the purchase of a place to erect the prison, but in 1811 after Prime Minister Spencer Perceval (1809-1812) refused to authorise the purchase of the land, the project was finally abandoned. In 1813, he was awarded a sum of £23,000 in compensation for his monetary loss which did little to alleviate Bentham's ensuing unhappiness.
While the design did not come to fruition during Bentham's time, it has been seen as an important development. For instance, the design was invoked by Michel Foucault (in Discipline and Punish) as metaphor for modern "disciplinary" societies and its pervasive inclination to observe and normalise. Foucault proposes that not only prisons but all hierarchical structures like the army, the school, the hospital and the factory have evolved through history to resemble Bentham's Panopticon. The notoriety of the design today (although not its lasting influence in architectural realities) stems from Foucault's famous analysis of it.
Panoptic prison design
incorporates a tower central to a circular building that is divided into cells, each cell extending the entire thickness of the building to allow inner and outer windows. The occupants of the cells are thus backlit, isolated from one another by walls, and subject to scrutiny both collectively and individually by an observer in the tower who remains unseen. Toward this end, Bentham envisioned not only venetian blinds on the tower observation ports but also maze-like connections among tower rooms to avoid glints of light or noise that might betray the presence of an observer
Ben and Marthalee Barton
The Panopticon is widely, but erroneously, believed to have influenced the design of Pentonville Prison in North London, Armagh Gaol in Northern Ireland, and Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. These, however, were Victorian examples of the Separate system, which was more about prisoner isolation than prisoner surveillance; in fact, the separate system makes surveillance quite difficult. No true panopticons were built in Britain during Bentham's lifetime, and very few anywhere in the British Empire.
Many modern prisons built today are built in a "podular" design influenced by the Panopticon design, in intent and basic organization if not in exact form. As compared to traditional "cellblock" designs, in which rectangular buildings contain tiers of cells one atop the other in front of a walkway along which correctional officers patrol, modern prisons are often constructed with triangular or trapezoidal-shaped buildings known as "pods" or "modules". In these designs, cells are laid out in three or fewer tiers arrayed around an elevated central control station which affords a single correctional officer full view of all cells within either a 270° or 180° field of view (180° is usually considered a closer level of supervision). Control of cell doors, CCTV monitors, and communications are all conducted from the control station. The correctional officer, depending on the level of security, may be armed with nonlethal and lethal weapons to cover the pod as well. Increasingly, meals, laundry, commissary items and other goods and services are dispatched directly to the pods or individual cells. These design points, whatever their deliberate or incidental psychological and social effects, serve to maximize the number of prisoners that can be controlled and monitored by one individual, reducing staffing; as well as restricting prisoner movement as tightly as possible.
Other panoptic structures
The Panopticon has been suggested as an "open" hospital architecture: "Hospitals required knowledge of contacts, contagions, proximity and crowding... at the same time to divide space and keep it open, assuring a surveillance which is both global and individualising", 1977 interview (preface to French edition of Jeremy Bentham's "Panopticon").
The Worcester State Hospital, constructed in the late 19th century, extensively employed panoptic structures to allow more efficient observation of the inmates. It was considered a model facility at the time.
The only industrial building ever to be built on the Panopticon principle was the Round Mill in Belper, Derbyshire, England. Constructed in 1811 it fell into disuse by the beginning of the twentieth century and was demolished in 1959.
Contemporary social critics often assert that technology has allowed for the deployment of panoptic structures invisibly throughout society. Surveillance by closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in public spaces is an example of a technology that brings the gaze of a superior into the daily lives of the populace. Further, Middlesbrough, a town in the North of England, has put loudspeakers to the CCTV cameras. They can transmit the voice of a camera supervisor.
In popular culture
Closed-circuit television is similar to the methods used in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four by the thought police to control the citizenry. At any moment, a person may or may not be being observed via a telescreen, though whether one is being watched at any given moment is unknown to that person.
The popular film Gilda (1946) features a panopticon-style headquarters in the casino of Nazist crimelord Ballin Mundson (George Macready). This menacing office and control base allows Mundson to oversee his gambling empire, and also provides Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) with a means to keep a check on the activities of the film's eponymous femme fatale (Rita Hayworth).
In the British TV science fiction series Doctor Who, the main room of the Capitol on Gallifrey (the Time Lords' home planet) was called the Panopticon, although it apparently did not have a panoptic design. (It may have been called that because events there were televised to the whole planet.)
The 1993 science fiction film Fortress features a heavily panoptic multi-level structure, albeit wholly underground. Most of the control over the structure and the inmates is given to the prison's central computer in similar vein to above literature, with ultimate leverage still exercized by the half-cyborg prison director.
In Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novella, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the Vicario brothers spend three years in the "panopticon of Riohacha" awaiting trial for the murder of Santiago Nasar.
The 2004 sci-fi adventure The Chronicles of Riddick employs a similar underground structure, which is set deep within the recesses of a planetoid enduring extreme ground temperatures day and night.
The 1998 video game Sanitarium features a mental asylum designed as Panopticon.
In the 2004 video game Silent Hill 4: The Room, there is a prison that is seemingly based on the Panopticon design.
Post-metal band Isis's 2004 album Panopticon takes both its title and its central lyrical theme from the Panopticon design.
In the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas there is a desolate area of countryside named 'The Panopticon'.
In the television show LOST much of how the Others watched Jack Shepherd, James "Sawyer" Ford, and Kate Austen was very similar to the Panopticon. The character John Locke even takes the name of Jeremy Bentham in Season 4.
John Twelve Hawks writes about panopticon as a model for society in his book The Traveler
The growth of panoptic monitoring technologies has provoked backlashes by privacy advocates. However, some observers argue that these technologies don't always favor the hierarchical structure outlined by Orwell, Bentham, and Foucault, but can also enable individuals, through inverse surveillance or sousveillance, to appropriate technological tools for individual or public purposes. Still others predict a balanced state of a universal "participatory panopticon" in which there is an equiveillance, or equilibrium of monitoring and control structures between parties.