Panopticon: 1. A word from the early 18th century. An idea from the mind of Jeremy Bentham, English civic philosopher and designer of prisons. (www.dictionary.com)
[An idea that has become central to American life in the 21st century.]
2. A prison system, whereby the jailer can keep in view all of the inmates, all of the time.
Panopticon: the ambition of many of the present leaders of the United States, ostensibly to fight a war against terrorism. (www.foucault.info.html)
In the 1700's, a man by the name of Jeremy Bentham came up with an idea for a device that would allow those in power to maximize the observation of its population while at the same time, keeping the observed under control. This device was dubbed the ˜Panopticon'. The main idea of this structure was a building constructed in the form of a ring. Located inside this ring, was a tower, possessing windows that opened onto the inner face of the ring. Housed in the ring surrounding the tower were any sort of people from different walks of life: Bentham suggested a lunatic, medical patient, convict, a workingman, and a schoolboy. In the middle, inside the tower, is nothing but a lone observer. The people in the ring are constantly aware that they could be, but are not necessarily being watched. This fear of voyeurism leads them to act properly and behave
accordingly. The kicker behind this idea is that does not always have to be someone present in the tower, because just the thought of being watched is enough to curtail their actions. Basically, the premise of the dungeon is reversed; light and the gaze of the overseer contain the "inmates more effectively than does the dark of the dungeon, which affords a kind of protection.
The precept of the ˜Panopticon' does not only apply to prisons, however. The idea of always being to see the actions of those you preside over is too overpowering to ignore. The rulers of nations, or otherwis