Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

The Panopticon Effect, 99% invisible, 03.28.23 Podcast and transcript

In the Netherlands, about an hour and a half south of Amsterdam, there’s a city called Breda. Like many Dutch towns, it has cozy narrow streets, canals and plenty of bicycles. But there’s one historic building – right in the middle of town that really stands out from the rest.
Inside the building, there’s a wide-open circular hall the size of half a football field with the sprawling dome overhead. Along the curved brick walls, there are hundreds of heavy orange doors spread out evenly across the four floors. And behind most of these doors are small rooms that were once prison cells. When this place was first built in 1886, it was a penitentiary. But not a typical one. This was a panopticon.
Over time, the panopticon has turned into something way bigger than just a blueprint for penitentiaries. It’s become the metaphor for the surveillance state. Philosopher Michel Foucault had probably the most popular take on the panopticon concept. He used it to warn society that what actually keeps all of us in check isn’t necessarily that someone is watching you. It’s just the feeling that someone might be watching you. But very few actual prisons were built around this idea.

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