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



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s