Week 7: Panoptic Gaze

In this week’s topics, we discussed the concepts of remote sensing and GPS in today’s culture. I was especially interested in the discussion of the panoptic gaze, originally developed by the utilitarian philosopher, Jeremy Bentham. Bentham created a prison with the intension to overcome chaos by developing an “all-seeing eye”. The prison was designed in a one-way perspective so that the guards could always see the prisoners yet the prisoners could not always see the guards, therefore prisoners had to assume that a guard was always watching. This, in turn, developed an internalized gaze in the prisoners’ head so that they would behave correctly. The panoptic gaze, along with any other type of surveillance, begs the debate of morality in the context of the public sphere.


It is often seen as immoral for an authoritative figure to secretly watch a civilian. It can be seen as an invasion of privacy that every human is entitled to. Interestingly in today’s society, the general public is submerged in a governmental panoptic gaze. For example, have you ever seen an empty police car parked at a stop sign and second-guessed yourself when rolling through the line? Also, many surveillance cameras are simply empty boxes, placed there to create an internalized gaze in the public’s mind so that people behave accordingly. This panoptic gaze is often discussed as unethical and immoral because of the government’s overarching “big brother” characteristics. The point of these pieces of technology is to keep ordinary civilians safe, not to keeps us on our toes thinking someone is always watching us. Yet it is not possible to have just one situation and not the other. With the implementation of these technologies, humans will feel like they are being watched because of the knowledge of the technology, sort of like the mothering affect. A mother tells a child that she has eyes in the back of her head so that her children believe they are always being observed.

The implementation of technology, ie unmanned drones, satellites, wire tapping, etc., has many positive benefits like military technologies, navigation, surveying, and numerous other advancements. Yet, as Wilson quotes, the new developments of GPS and remote sensing, “promises an unprecedented ability for individuals to know where they and others are on the face of the earth…authorities will be able to know exactly where things and people are. There could be no privacy, no solitude.” (Wilson, 283). There have been many stories in the news that suggests the government’s capabilities to tap into anyone’s personal cameras, phone lines, text messages, snapchats, and many other social media sites. With this knowledge, we are forced to ask whether we are always being watched, or if this is just another case of panoptic gaze. Are we subconsciously under more control than we know?

-Sam Ozenbaugh


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