Friday, 2 May 2014

The All Seeing Eye

The Guggenheim

With the news that teachers are increasingly being surveilled in the classroom, it is worth noting how the structure of many new build academies is based on an eighteenth century prison designer Jeremy Bentham.

Bentham first proposed the idea of the Panopticon in 1791. The concept of the design is to allow a single watchman to observe all the inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether they are being watched or not. The fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched or not means that all inmates must act as though they are watched at all times, effectively controlling their own behaviour constantly. The name is also a reference to Panoptes from Greek mythology; he was a giant with a hundred eyes and thus was known to be a very effective watchman. This is the principle behind CCTV and IT surveillance, sometimes called the Information Panopticon. Which reminds me of the time I worked in a call centre and had to use the following codes when I logged off the phone system during work time:

01 For an allowed break
02 For Call Work
03 For a piss
04 For a shit
05 Because I watched Falling Down last night and want to do something about it.

Bentham always conceived the Panopticon principle as being beneficial to the design of a variety of institutions where surveillance was important, including hospitals, schools, workhouses, and lunatic asylums, as well as prisons. In particular, he developed it in his ideas for a "chrestomathic" school (one devoted to useful learning), in which teaching was to be undertaken by senior pupils on the monitorial principle, under the overall supervision of the Master and for a pauper “industry-house” (workhouse). Thus the human touch of "teachers" or "prison wardens" becomes a much reduced necessity. The lasting psychological effects on academy children (who incidentally are not even allowed outside to play in one Panopticon school) remains to be seen.

Here is a montage of academy and prison designs all mixed up. At first glance they are indistinguishable. And the last word is left to Foucault.

By North Utsire

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