Week Six – Bentham, Foucault & the Panopticon of the Networked Society


– How do theories of panopticism and the gaze relate to social networking?

– How does ‘opinion’ affect the performance of self on social media?

Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon was the ideal mechanism for surveillance and control, permitting a single guard in the centre of a prison to monitor all of the prisoners (Fairfield, 2009). This concept of panopticism exists in the virtual world, particularly in relation to social media. According to Fast, parallels can be drawn between the structure of Facebook and the structure of the Panopticon in the networked society (2015). Whilst Albrechtslund challenges conventional understandings of surveillance that often focus on disempowerment:

The practice of self–surveillance cannot be adequately described within the framework of a hierarchical understanding of surveillance. Rather, online social networking seems to introduce a participatory approach to surveillance, which can empower – and not necessarily violate – the
user’ (2008).

This suggests that the experience with social media is a two way street – users have control over their input and interaction with social media, subjecting themselves to the ‘anonymous gaze’ and public opinion (Foucault, 1972). Evidently, sociability has been redefined by a variety of behaviours that are undoubtedly social, yet practiced in passive states of engagement and introspective self expressions such as narcissistic photography and Facebook status updates (Papacharissi, 2011).

According to Foucault, ‘if you can see something and it is open and transparent, then you have the power’ (1972). Social networking sites are dominating online activities today (boyd and Ellison, 2007; Lenhart and Madden, 2007). Facebook is a valid example of how Foucault’s theory of ‘the gaze’ and transparency applies within the networked society. 

‘When we study the actual practice, we should not be “lured” into only seeing the dangers in things. Rather, online social networking is an opportunity to Online social networking can be defined as the sharing of activities, preferences, beliefs, etc. to socialise’ (Albrechtslund, 2008).



Zizi Papacharissi 2011

Fast, A 2015



Anders Albrechtslund 2008


J Fairfield 2009

Foucault, Michel (1988) Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972 – 1977. New York. Random House USA inc. (or later edition)

http://www.counselheal.com/articles/13865/20150210/facebook-activity-unmasks-personal-insecurity.htm = insecurities social media

• Bozovic, Miran ed. (1995) The Panopticon Writings N.Y.: Verso

• Foucault, Michel (1972) Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and

Other Writings 1972 – 1977. First published by Harvester Press Ltd,


• McMullan, T. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/23/


• Steadman, P. (n.d.) Samuel Bentham’s Panopticon. Available at:



• van Dijk, J. (2013) ’The Culture of Connectivity’: A Critical History of

Social Media. U.S.A. Oxford University Press

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/18/technology/18rehab.html?_r=2&scp=7&sq=internet+addiction&st=nyt& bootcamp for addicts of the internet


ignorify app


Week Five – Utopia & Utopianism


Utopia functions in an ambiguous space of double meaning: it can refer both to u-topia, ‘a place which does not exist’, and to eu-topia, a good place, a ‘place to be desired’ (Bauman, 1976).

To expand on Bauman’s definition, Birkerts states that ‘tales of utopia are created in order to stimulate hope about possibilities for the future’ (1996). Upon conducting research surrounding the topic of utopia and utopianism in networked societies, there is significant evidence supporting the claim that it does have a place on the internet. According to Howcroft and Fitzgerald, the internet has the capacity for both utopian and dystopian outcomes simultaneously on a range of factors, and that which are realised depends on the contingencies of any particular situation (1998).

Driven by popular social networks and independent websites, anti-brand activists have utilised these platforms to come together and form online utopian communities. ‘Anti-brand communities create a virtual reality that fosters utopian thinking. These communities are visionary, creating ideal social and political schemes. The interactions among community members are based upon visionary ideals of urban planning, activist projects, and controlled consumption lifestyles’ (Hollenbeck and Zinkhan, 2006).


According to Hollenbeck and Zinkhan’s study on the topic, members of anti-brand communities believe that reality has become distorted by contemporary consumption practices, and that consumers are subconsciously participating in a consumer culture that is entirely subservient to corporations. Through the analysis of individual case studies such as anti-McDonald’s, anti-Wal-Mart and anti-Starbucks, it is evident that these are all utopian communities proven by their efforts to overcome cultural influences by publicising that consumerism cannot always provide what it promises (Hollenbeck and Zinkhan, 2006). Quotes from members of these communities further exemplifies their utopian views:

We offer a place where people can come together and be valued for who they are and not what they own. I feel like our online community is a place of equality and true democracy.’ (Dave, anti-McDonald’s)

‘When we meet online, it almost feels like we are escaping our surrounding environment. So many people that I talk with think that Wal-Mart is great and I can’t understand why. They all want the lowest prices they can find. Yet they complain about outsourcing! I want to scream at them, ‘don’t you know that you are the cause of outsourcing!’’ (Tom, anti-Wal-Mart)

The passion for their respective causes is evident in these expressions as they call for the active transformation of society to realise a better, more ‘authentic’ means of existence (Yar, 2012). In summary, the evolution of technology and the information era has simply increased the ease in which people can come together to form communities and share their views and beliefs. The contemporary networked society proves itself to be a platform that promotes equality, communication and information sharing – hence the emergence of virtual utopian communities.


Bauman, Z. (1976). Socialism: The Active Utopia. London: Allen and Unwin

Birkerts, S. (1996). The electronic hive – refuse it, in Kling, R. (Ed.) Computerization and Controversy, 2nd Edition, Academic Press, San Diego, pp. 79-82.

Hollenbeck, C and Zinkhan, G. (2006). Consumer Activism on the Internet: The Role of Anti-Brand Communities in NA – Advances in Consumer Research Volume 33, eds. Connie Pechmann and Linda Price, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 479-485.

http://swcta.net/moore/files/2012/04/dystopia.pdf Debra Howcroft and Brian Fitzgerald 1998


Yar. M. (2012) ‘Virtual Utopias and Dystopias: The Cultural Imaginary of the Internet’, in K.Tester & M. Hviid-Jacobsen (eds) Utopia: Social Theory and the Future. (Aldershot : Ashgate) http://www.academia.edu/4738519/Virtual_Utopias_and_Dystopias_The_Cultural_Imaginary_of_the_Internet

Week Four – Counterculture

Airbnb_Logo uber-logo

A countercultural action or expression communicates disagreement, opposition, disobedience or rebellion. A counterculture rejects or challenges mainstream culture or particular elements of it… In the 20th century, countercultural points of view were commonly expressed as action. Often physical materials such as flyers, magazines and independent newspapers were originally meant to serve immediate, sometimes urgent, purposes: to promote action, gather support or inspire change.
(British Library, 2015)

When comparing the present networked society with counterculture of the past, one can argue that the issue of narcissism, identity and the self on the internet overpowers positive movements and communities (Buffardi and Campbell, 2008). However, through analysing the success and engagement in the sharing economy, it is evident that the legacy of pre-internet counterculture has continued through the embrace of contemporary networked societies (Brown, 2013 and 2014).

Airbnb and Uber have taken the world by storm – rooted by the ever-popular sharing economy and collaborative consumption of resources (Brown, 2013 and 2014). As outlined by Glipin, traditional models of ownership are changing – sharing economies are utilising social technologies to allow users to share resources, goods, services and even skills (2014). Results show that participation in collaborative consumption is motivated by many factors such as its sustainability, enjoyment of the activity as well as economic gain (Hamari, Sjöklint and Ukkonen, 2015).

Founded in 2008, the room letting website Airbnb promises economic gain for all parties involved: it has a valuation of over $20 billion having dealt with 40 million guests so far, hosts are charged only 3% of the booking’s value to cover the company’s costs (Hutchinson, 2015), and guests pay an average of 30-80% less than available hotels (Brown, 2014).

While this proves the popularity and main motivation of collaboration and sharing through the startup, there are many other factors working together to ensure the reliability and success of a sharing economy.


In her TED Talk, Rachel Botsman, author of What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, says that ‘the real magic behind collaborative consumption marketplaces like Airbnb isn’t the inventory or the money. It’s using the power of technology to build trust between strangers’ (2010).

Trust is also a integral part of participating in Uber as both a driver and a passenger. Established in 2009, the controversial private transportation service completely redefined an industry, consequently changing the way people consider deep-rooted habits and beliefs (Brown, 2013). Uber’s engagement with modern technology was key – its smartphone app integrated with Google maps ensures a fluid experience between driver and rider with the ability to track how far away the cars are. Transparency and trust is built around the passenger’s ability to see their driver’s information (including ratings) before they even arrive, a system that starkly contrasts with that of traditional taxis (Brown, 2013).

Although the consumer base for sharing economy companies such as Airbnb and Uber continues to grow, so does the controversy that surrounds them. Traditional businesses such as taxis and hotels are complaining that these newcomers have an unfair advantage by ducking oversight that’s meant to protect consumers and the relatively new technologies that drive the sharing economy have put many transactions outside the purview of regulators (Marshall, 2015). While cities issue taxi medallions to a limited number of service providers, they struggle to control drivers connecting to passengers using Uber. In relation to the licensing and taxing of hotels, a way to manage and monitor homeowners and companies renting through the sharing-economy website Airbnb is yet to be developed (Marshall, 2015).


Nevertheless, the internet still remains an innovative means for building coalition. When reflecting on the information revolution and its impact on contemporary society, collaborative consumption plays a large part in the resurrection and redefinition of community life (Howcroft & Fitzgerald, 1998). Counterculture has always brought people together, evidently the virtual context of the networked society is more flexible and durable than physically situated communities due to the ongoing availability of resources and continuous communication (Shumar & Renninger, 2002).

It can be predicted that the worldwide debate behind the legality of Airbnb and Uber will soon come to an end as ‘the ‘unacceptability’ of any countercultural expression is always short-lived. Sooner or later avant-garde aesthetics are embraced by the producers and consumers of mainstream culture and absorbed into the ‘normal’’ (British Library, 2015). Therefore, as long as participation in collaborative consumption and the sharing economy continues to boom, the networked society remains a platform that brings us together as a community in innovative new ways.


Barr, A. (2015). How Big is Uber?. [image] Available at: http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2015/08/how-big-is-uber.html [Accessed 2 Dec. 2015].

Buffardi, L. and Campbell, W. (2008). Narcissism and Social Networking Web Sites. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, [online] 34(10), pp.1303-1314. Available at: http://psp.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/34/10/1303 [Accessed 1 Dec. 2015].

Botsman, R. (2010). The case for collaborative consumption. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/rachel_botsman_the_case_for_collaborative_consumption?language=en#t-518413 [Accessed 2 Dec. 2015].

British Library, (2015). Counter Culture. [online] Available at: http://www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/21cc/counterculture/counterintro.html [Accessed 27 Nov. 2015].

Brown, M. (2013). Uber — What’s Fueling Uber’s Growth Engine?. [online] GrowthHackers. Available at: https://growthhackers.com/growth-studies/uber [Accessed 25 Nov. 2015].

Brown, M. (2014). Airbnb: The Growth Story You Didn’t Know. [online] GrowthHackers. Available at: https://growthhackers.com/growth-studies/airbnb [Accessed 25 Nov. 2015].

Desjardins, J. (2015). Infographic: India’s Taxi War – Uber vs. Ola. [online] Visual Capitalist. Available at: http://www.visualcapitalist.com/indias-taxi-war-uber-vs-ola/ [Accessed 24 Nov. 2015].

Gilpin, L. (2014). We-commerce: The sharing economy’s uncertain path to changing the world – TechRepublic. [online] TechRepublic. Available at: http://www.techrepublic.com/article/we-commerce-the-sharing-economys-uncertain-path-to-changing-the-world/ [Accessed 1 Dec. 2015].

Gorenflo, N. (2014). Better than Cyber Utopia: How the Internet Helped Us Create the Sharing Economy. [online] YES! Magazine. Available at: http://www.yesmagazine.org/new-economy/better-than-cyber-utopia-how-the-internet-helped-us-create-sharing-economy [Accessed 3 Dec. 2015].

Hamari, J. and Ukkonen, A. (2015). The Sharing Economy: Why People Participate in Collaborative Consumption. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. [online] Available at: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2271971 [Accessed 29 Nov. 2015].

Hessan, D. (2014). 5 Ways to Make Your Brand Thrive in the Sharing Economy. [online] Inc.com. Available at: http://www.inc.com/diane-hessan/5-ways-to-make-your-brand-thrive-in-the-sharing-economy.html [Accessed 28 Nov. 2015].

Houghteling, W. (2014). Why is Airbnb successful? [online] Quora. Available at: https://www.quora.com/Why-is-Airbnb-successful [Accessed 29 Oct. 2015].

Hutchison, C. (2015). What is Airbnb and why is it so controversial?. [online] Evening Standard. Available at: http://www.standard.co.uk/business/what-is-airbnb-and-why-is-it-so-controversial-a2918061.html [Accessed 22 Nov. 2015].

Marshall, P. (2015). Issue: The Sharing Economy The Sharing Economy.

Nielsen, (2014). Is Sharing the New Buying?. [online] Available at: http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/reports/2014/is-sharing-the-new-buying.html [Accessed 20 Nov. 2015].

Renninger, K. and Shumar, W. (2002). Building virtual communities. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sacca, M. (2014). Building Trust in the Sharing Economy. [online] Tech.Co. Available at: http://tech.co/building-trust-sharing-economy-2014-10 [Accessed 28 Nov. 2015].

Vital, A. (2014). How Airbnb Started. [image] Available at: http://burners.me/2014/11/03/airbnb-ceo-on-the-sharing-economy/ [Accessed 2 Dec. 2015].

Wihbey, J. and Penn, J. (2015). Uber, Airbnb and consequences of the sharing economy: Research roundup – Journalist’s Resource. [online] Journalist’s Resource. Available at: http://journalistsresource.org/studies/economics/business/airbnb-lyft-uber-bike-share-sharing-economy-research-roundup [Accessed 26 Nov. 2015].


Week Three – Carnival


This week we explored the concepts of ‘Carnival’ and ‘Performing the Digital Self.’ When comparing the two, we asked ourselves ‘Can the networked Society be seen as a ‘re-flowering’ of Mikhail Bakhtin’s Carnivalesque?’

To gain a better understanding of ‘carnival’ in the past versus the present, we explored the works of Erving Goffman, Johann Huizinga, Mikhail Bakhtin and Jeffrey Hancock. Goffman is considered to be “the most influential American sociologists of the twentieth century” (Fine and Manning, 2003, p.34) exploring the concept of individuals taking part in a constant ‘performance’ made up of ‘carriers’ and ‘sign signals’ that are a reflection and reaffirmation of society (Goffman, 1959). In the 1950’s, forms of expression were mostly limited to face-to-face interaction – so the ‘audience’ could gain an impression and sense is the actor may not have mastered the sign vehicles of what he/she is attempting to give off.

Today, technology can enable various forms of deception by enabling us to lie or allowing us to lie in new ways (Hancock, 2009). If someone wishes others to see them in a certain way, the internet can be used as a primary tool in enabling this. Chat rooms, online dating, Facebook – they are all platforms in which users are giving a performance, and it is now harder than ever to recognise the truthful ‘sign signals’ from the deceitful. Of course, not every performance and self expression is a lie – as Huizinga wrote ‘everything is in some way or form, a Playground, with game rules (1955)’ and some rules will be broken. For the most part, I agree with Hancock and think of the digital world as a series of games and playgrounds with individual sets of rules. Each network of people gathering in celebration of something unique, which can be seen as carnivalesque.


Worldwide Zombie Events is a great example of how the internet can bring together strangers based around a love for ‘carnival’ and ‘laughter’ in today’s society. The desire to get involved sparks from a range of things; a love of Zombie films, horror or just dressing up to scare people… but the overarching motivation always seems to simply be to come together and be free to perform and celebrate along with each other and the spectators.

“Carnival is not a spectacle to be seen by the people; they live in it, and everyone participates because its very idea embraces all the people. While carnival lasts, there is no other life outside it. During carnival time life is subject only to its laws, that is, the laws of its own freedom. It has a universal spirit; it is a special condition of the entire world, of the world’s revival and renewal, in which all take part. Such is the essence of carnival, vividly felt by all its participants” (Bakhtin, 1965, p.198)

The event participation and frequency grows bigger every year, particular in large cities such as London. With online networking sites such as http://zombies.meetup.com/ it is easier than ever to get involved in a carnivalesque experience like World Zombie Day or Zombie Flash Mobs and whether you’re the audience or an actor it’s just as exciting and rewarding.

world-zombie-day  zombie-screenshot1zombie-screenshot2

Although technology can disinhibit liars and narcissists, Hancock cited research that proves people are more honest and open about deeply personal things when communicating online rather than face-to-face (2009). Although this could be seen as something positive, in relation to young generations being brought up in this digital world it could rapidly become a problem. It is vital that youth are still able to learn how to express themselves in person and develop good communication skills, away from the keyboard. So let’s hope that more networked events such as World Zombie Day continue to grow and celebrate in physical environments rather than just virtual ones.


Bakhtin, M. (1965). Rabelais and His World. Trans. H. Iswolsky, Bloomington, Ind. : Indiana University Press: In: Selected Writings of Bakhtin, Medvedev, Volohimov Morris,P. Ed. (1994) London: Edward Arnold.

Goffman, E. (1959), The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life. London: Penguin.

Hancock, J. (2009). The Practice of Lying in the Digital Age. In: Deception from Ancient Empires to Internet Dating. Stanford California: Stanford University Press.

Huizinga, J. (1955). Homo Ludens: A Study of ThePlay Element in Culture. Boston: Beacon Press.