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Inverted Panoptic Surveillance

‘Quis custodiet ipos custodes?’
(Old Latin saying meaning: ‘Who will watch the watchers?’).

ICT4Accountability logoThe emblem accompanying the term ICT4Accountability symbolizes the panoptic- or all-seeing prison. In his book ‘Discipline and Punish’ (1977), one of the most influential theorizers of modern society, Michel Foucault, describes the panoptic prison as a metaphor for the power relations within modern society. The prison was originally invented by Jeremy Bentham in 1785. In the architecture of the ‘panopticon’ a central guard tower is erected in the middle of the prison, the windows in the tower allows the guard to look out, but no-one is able to look into the tower (think of blinded glass). Cells are built around the central tower within sight of the guard.

Without being able to view the guard in the centrally located tower, an all-seeing gaze is marked yet masked, at once visible and invisible. Foucault’s thesis follows that, since prisoners must therefore assume that they could be at any time under the watchful eye of the tower, they begin to self-discipline their behavior. Even if the guard is not present in the central tower, prisoners will feel ‘the gaze’ and will behave according to the rules. Michel Foucault applies this model or ‘diagram’ to society as a whole. The presence of (central) authority should be internalized by the people, creating self-discipline.

ICT4Accountability builds on the panoptic theory. However, it proposes to ‘invert’ the direction of the gaze, thus, enabling the many to watch the few. The panoptic prison, which Foucault methaphorically uses to describe control within  modern society can be used to describe the impact of social media on the contemporary political powers. New comunication technologies are used to turn the gaze around and allow citizens to monitor the ´guardians´ of society. By creating the feeling of a constant monitoring gaze among leaders, ‘inverted panoptic surveillance’ can internalize discipline and correct behavior.

The theory of inverted panoptic surveillance is closely related to synoptic surveillance, with the difference being that inverted panoptic surveillance Real Panopticonrevolves around the monitoring of incidents in society and does not attempt to constantly monitor government processes. Permanent monitoring would probably interfere with the conventional governing processes and would, if possible at all, retard decission making  processes. Inverted panoptic surveillance isolates incidents that occur in the political realm and emphasizes these incidents to make leaders aware that people are watching, creating the self disciplining gaze among leaders. Key to this approach is strong and effective public condemnation of responsible individuals and appropriate punishment of central authoritharians who are caught by the public gaze. In this way public monitoring can be used to battle corruption and mismanagement in an efficient and achievable way.

  1. June 29, 2012 at 7:19 pm | #1

    “Even if the guard is not present in the central tower, prisoners will _____ ‘the gaze’ and will behave according to the rules.”

    IPS is currently in use in San Diego County Jail, as I discovered.

  2. July 21, 2013 at 6:48 am | #2

    Do you know of a music artist that talks about this also? Maybe it will be good if you’re able to find their endorsement somehow online and publish it here also, potentially that might give this article another increase of authority?

  1. March 30, 2012 at 3:33 pm | #1
  2. May 27, 2012 at 10:28 pm | #2

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