Project 2 and Exercise 4.2

Project 2: Exercise 4.2 How is Foucault’s theory of Panopticism relevant to digital culture

Summary of Foucault’s theory

See below:

Summary of Foucault’s Theory of Panopticism_Project 2

Comments on its relevance to digital culture

Foucault is certainly very positive of Bentham’s theories and I am also reminded of Bentham’s other concept of ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’ which permeates some of our political institutions. The emphasis upon information collection fits with our increasingly bureaucratic system of government and reliance on quantification and data collection as opposed to quality measures and person-centred evaluation.  The notion of psychological trickery is a good one; how many of us automatically slow down whilst driving when we see warnings of a speed camera, despite knowing that many of them do not operate due to financial constraints.

University College of London (UCL) ran a PanoptiCam Daily Time-lapse Project from Jeremy Bentham’s box there. The PanoptiCam was a tongue in cheek comment on Bentham’s “inspection house” but it also had a genuine research element ‘being used to test algorithms to count visitor numbers to museum exhibit cases using low cost webcam solutions”. See here

The concept can be applied to Facebook in terms of virtual surveillance – whilst each user becomes the centre of observation s/he can also control what is seen and not seen. Every action taken on Facebook is controlled and monitored by the site’s design and there is collection of data usage. Users have to be either male or female so fit into gender norms and the site’s rules and regulations help to control content.  Users self-regulate knowing that others are following them but they can also create ‘false’ profiles. We don’t know who is looking if posts are ‘public’ and I’ve been surprised by how many individual Users do maintain a public activity. The account doesn’t disappear when the User signs off so that also allows for constant surveillance. Here’s a peep into how the algorithms work

Currently, complaints about CCTV cameras and loss of privacy are also balanced by calls for more such surveillance of places such as hospital, nursing homes and schools to protect the vulnerable from harm. Drones can be used for humanitarian purposes as well as in remote surveillance or long-range missiles.

There are many opportunities for Artists/photographers take advantage of these types of surveillance/monitoring techniques. For example, I wrote about some of them here  in my review of the “A Handful of Dust” Exhibition. In his work A New American Picture .  Doug Rickard located American street scenes using Google Street View  and then re-photographed them on his computer screen  with a tripod-mounted camera, “freeing the image from its technological origins and re-presenting them on a new documentary plane”. Jon Rafman  is a Canadian artist whose work centres around the emotional, social and existential impact of technology on contemporary life (he also has a SecondLife persona).

Mishka Henner has sourced imagery through the internet, television and satellites to comment on activities which are usually ‘hidden’  – as here  . Broomberg & Chanarin  created their series Spirit is a Bone using a facial recognition system developed in Moscow for public security. The artists Leon Cmielewski and Josephine Starrs, amongst others, have created performance works  that draw attention to the potential for attacks by drones on civilians in combat zones.

Edmund Clark’s work  links together history, politics and representation, in recent years focussing on, “…… the hidden experiences and spaces of control and incarceration in the ‘Global War on Terror’. Such practices seem many steps beyond Foucault’s concept of mind over mind psychological trickery inculcating self-regulation to one of psychological torture/terror  (as in Guantanamo: If the light Goes out)   and remote control and surveillance (as in Control Order House. In many respects the idea of remotely tracking offenders’ movements can seem like a more humane method of curtailing sentenced offenders’ movements as an alternative to imprisonment but Clark offers a different viewpoint here in respect of returning detainees.   In Section 4 Part 20: One Day on a Saturday (2011) he also created an installation work putting together material emanating from the prison camps at Guantanamo Bay. An extract is below.

<p><a href=”″>Section 4 Part 20: One Day on a Saturday (2 min extract)</a> from <a href=”″>edmundclark</a&gt; on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>



Evans, J & Hall, S (1999 ) Visual Culture: The Reader, UK. SAGE Publications Ltd