Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Inspecting the bad society? Bentham’s panopticon revisited.

Duff, Alistair


Alistair Duff


In Panopticon; or, The Inspection-House (2008 [1797]), the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham outlined what he perceived to be a model prison, based on ‘the inspection-principle’ (p. 68). It was centrally about power, the control of miscreants by subjecting them to total visibility. Even more worryingly, he claimed that his model applied equally splendidly to schools, hospitals, and other innocent institutions. In a postscript, he added chapels to his list (1995, pp. 97-100), but one could argue that he had already usurped God. Michel Foucault’s influential treatment of ‘Panopticism’ (1991; cf. Lyon & Bauman 2011) developed Bentham-inspired themes which resonate increasingly loudly in the information age, such as surveillance systems, automatic power, permanent registration, etc. The paper will pursue this discussion in light of the normative crisis facing post-industrial, informatised societies. ‘What would you say, if by the gradual adoption and diversified application of this single principle, you should see a new scene of things spread itself over the face of civilized society? – morals reformed, health preserved, industry invigorated, instruction diffused… all by a simple idea in architecture?’ (Bentham 2008, p. 73). What indeed! Perhaps Mr Snowden will help us with the answer.


Duff, A. (2016). Inspecting the bad society? Bentham’s panopticon revisited. The Asian Conference on Technology, Information & Society, 13-25

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date 2016
Deposit Date Apr 20, 2016
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Pages 13-25
Book Title The Asian Conference on Technology, Information and Society 2015, Kobe, Japan, Official Conference Proceedings
ISBN 21891028
Keywords Power abuses; information society; inspection-principle; Bentham; surveillance studies; normativity
Public URL
Publisher URL