Follow-up on Panopticism

Hey folks,

A number of random bits of information popped into my head in class yesterday, but I wanted to wait until I could include some pictures/ links to contextualize things, so I decided to blog rather than mention them in class.

There are a number of jails that were built based on Bentham’s Panopticon. One such example is Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin (which I have had the privelege of visiting. There are two parts to the prison, and the one section has the basic circular structure with the cells all facing out, but there was no guard tower.


Another building that came to mind is the Reichstage building in Berlin. During WWII it was the parliament building for the Nazis. In the 90s, a glass dome was built on top that looks down into the offices below and also looks out over the entire city. According to my tour guide, the idea is that the people can watch their government at work, and that by standing over them it reminds the government that they serve the people.

(I didn’t have any good photos of it myself, but there are a bunch here).

It also occurred to me that the new “open concept” office designs are a form of panopticism. While I was on co-op I worked in one and there was a definite sense of being watched. I had a woman I had never met before come up to me one day and ask me if I was planning a trip because she had seen me open up Google maps on my computer. It was a bit unnerving. And it made me realize that I did the same thing to other people as I walked by their desks. I also had a bad habit of eavesdropping, which is just as valid a method of surveillence. We tend to limit our idea of the Panopticon to sight, but the original building  design was meant to have great acoustics so that everyone in it would be able to hear everything.

And as general points of interest, some links:

A Guantanamo guard has recently provided a full confession of things that went on while he worked at the prison:

Alternative punishments:

Finland’s “open” prisons are fascinating. I couldn’t find any good articles about them online, but I watched a documentary on prisons that covered them, and they work basically like a gated community where prisoners live in a house together and they are responsible for their own cooking and cleaning. They interviewed a few inmates and the men were talking about how they had never cooked a meal before for themselves, and how having to live with one another they were forced to find ways to resolve things without violence (for example, whose turn it was to do the dishes). Similar to the puppy thing, they gave some of the houses small pets (mostly fish I think) or even just plants to teach the inmates how to care for something. The recidivism rate there is significantly less than with a traditional prison.

I know that Allan McDougall was doing some work last year on using literature as a form of rehabilitation as well, so if you’re interested in this stuff I’m sure he wouldn’t mind talking about it with you.

– Laura


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