On the Power of the Panopticon

This fall, universities have been faced with an unprecedented crisis in the form of COVID-19.  Colleges around the world have taken wildly varied approaches, many of which have been harshly criticized.  At Penn State, for example, faculty warned administrative leaders about a second wave of the pandemic in the fall, yet classes were held face-to-face – and indeed, a fairly large number of students and employees contracted coronavirus, thus causing even more controversy.  In one recent account, the author drew on Michel Foucault’s ideas about the panopticon as a way to understand what was happening on campus:  instead of heeding the warnings, “the university instituted a series of panoptic measures to surveill and control students and faculty, hoping to obtain full compliance with social distancing rules through draconian means. But the history of Penn State surveilling and controlling campus members precedes the recent pandemic.”

Using these words as a cue, in this Blogpost I want you to think about the rise of “surveillance society” in the modern age.  More specifically, I want you to consider the way in which “panoptic” forms of surveillance, policing, and power exist in your own life.  Write two paragraphs on the following:  1)  In what ways is Stockton University guilty of functioning as a “panoptic institution”?  And how do you feel about this?  2)  What are some other ways, or realms, that a de facto panopticon plays a role in your life?  I’m thinking here of things like your cellphones, social media, your parents, the local police, and the list goes on.  Is this acceptable, or should something be done about it?  CAN anything be done about it given our technology-driven world?

11 thoughts on “On the Power of the Panopticon

  1. Hayden Smallwood
    Professor Gust
    Power and Society
    1 December, 2020
    Surveillance Blog Post
    In today’s world of cameras, technology and GPS tracking we are watched almost constantly. Everywhere you go there are cameras; in stores, schools, street corners and sometimes even houses. Stockton university is no different than anywhere else in this world. The school is scattered with cameras, Stockton police and faculty members making sure people are doing the correct thing. With this being said even though there are cameras through the halls this doesn’t mean there is somebody watching each person’s every move. These types of surveillance are called panoptic surveillance because even though people might not be watching you or following you directly, there is a chance that someone is watching you without you knowing. With this being said, I am not opposed to these types of surveillance. These ensure that everybody is following the rules and they keep members of the community safe. In my generation, I feel that we are accustomed to the idea of being watched by cameras, tracked on our phones and watched by members of the public. In today’s world this is how people insure the safety of the public and Stockton University is no different.
    Social media has a huge impact on surveillance and tracking people in today’s society. On apps such as snap chat there are features that allow your friends to see where you are and who you are with. Other apps such as instagram allow your friends to see if you are on the app or how long you have not been on the app for. Cell phones have almost made privacy impossible. Friends are able to see where their friends are through social media and parents are able to track their kids through find my iphone, life 360, and social media. Social media and phones are just one form of surveillance, other forms consist of cameras, and police officers making sure people are doing the right thing. For me personally, I live in a small shore town which means that people are very close to one another and everybody knows everybody. With this being said if a member of the community sees a person acting a way that they shouldn’t, they are most likely going to tell people about it. With all of this being said, surveillance can be both a blessing and a curse. If these forms of surveillance are used to protect the community and the people, then it is being used in the correct way. If it is used to spy on your kids and friends then it is being used in the wrong way. I believe that these forms of surveillance are ok and can be beneficial but it all depends on how it is used.

  2. Stockton University, as most college institutions, use surveillance (cameras) as a means to secure and protect students and staff. This is why Stockton is guilty of functioning as a “panoptic institution”. Wherever you go, whether to the campus center, food court, or even down the outside paths, cameras follow every move. Sometimes its a necessary means of protection – and other times just an invasion of privacy. No one truly knows if these cameras are being watched. It’s the assumption and the recording, that keeps everyone on their toes and best behavior. Honestly, at this point and time, it is very uncommon to have a building not surrounded by eyes. It can even be unsettling to some people. That’s how accustomed we are to this means of “protection” and “proof” if anything ever happens. I don’t see it as anything wrong, I understand why cameras are so important, and I’m too used to them to even really notice anymore.
    Other forms of this panopticon that I have found in my life most definitely includes social media, and location/GPS tracking. Social media has become a huge role in my life ever since middle school. Everyone would consistently talk about the pictures they would be posting and where they were on any and every platform – all just to gain “popularity” or “clout”. This was just the beginning when it came to understanding people’s everyday moves and routines. Then locations became a thing. Suddenly you can share your location with contacts or friends on Snapchat. Everyone did it but no one really understood the importance of revealing this to the public. Now not only are cameras seeing your everyday routes and routines, but everyone that “friends” you can see where you are at all times. I don’t think anything can be done. It’s the way social media and technology has moved forward. I personally keep my location and whereabouts to myself – but others are not so careful.

  3. 1.) When I was in high school, cameras were installed at every point in the school. There was literally nowhere you could go in the hallways without being in the line of sight of a camera. At Stockton, it’s almost the same thing. Cameras everywhere like that can be considered panoptic. The fear that one is being watched makes lessens the chance of people committing crimes or breaking the rules. Whether someone is watching the cameras 24/7, no one knows. In my opinion, I don’t see anything wrong with it. With the presence of cameras, I at least can be assured that someone is watching to make sure nothing happens. In this instance, giving up some of your freedom for protection is necessary.
    2.) With the invention of social media, your privacy can become inflicted if you allow it. These apps allow you to post what you are doing and where you are doing it. Snapchat has even made it possible for you to be able to see where all your friends on the app are. Even though it’s completely optional to share your location, it is a little weird that it is even an option. On top of social media, GPS has allowed my parents to be able to track me as long as I am on my phone. I understand that they are my parents, but I don’t think it’s necessary for them to know everywhere I go. It makes me feel as though I can’t go places without them asking questions about it later on. The use of surveillance through modern technology is acceptable as long as it used correctly and appropriately. With technology only getting better, I doubt anything will change anytime soon.

  4. 1)
    I feel that this is something that people who are on campus would notice more, but if you are on campus, it is easy for Stockton to figure out where you are. Specifically now with the lack of places to go besides on campus. They know your schedule plus there may be cameras on campus ( I am not really sure about that one, I am not really on campus a lot). I feel that the students should have more freedom to go places, especially because we do not live in a “college town”.
    So there’s one topic that I think is very much like it. It is an app that parents have been using to track their kids using their phones. Parent’s can easily track their children’s where a bouts from their phone. It creates a lack of distrust between parent and child and prevents from expansion of becoming an adult, which is unacceptable. I do not think anything can be from preventing apps like this from being made, but it depends on the consciousness of others to prevent invasion of privacy.

  5. 1. America has turned to using technology with ensuring safety and security in our country. Whether it’s through our personal devices like our phones off the usage of cameras, technology helps with tracking peoples locations and actions. Cameras can be seen scattered all over campus; on the paths and walkways, by the housing buildings , and even on the main campus. This is how Stockton University runs as a “panoptic institution”. These cameras help faculty, staff, and students feel protected while roaming the campus and prevent wrongdoings from happening in the first place. Overall in our country our private isn’t an option because we could be tracked even off campus without the usage of cameras. Whether these cameras actually work or just act as a decoy, they’re there and serve their purpose no matter what it may be.
    2. When it comes to location and privacy, personally I don’t believe this exists. I am guilty of using apps that track my location whether its my friend circle on Life360 or through the usage of social media. I think their should be limits and some sort of consent to when it comes to this invasion. For example I gave my friends permission to track my location when it came to joining the group on the app but when I turned 18 I had told my mom that I had proven myself worthy enough to not be tracked by her since she used to keep tabs on my location in high school. I believe with certain limits and permissions our locations and privacy can be somewhat exposed if by our terms.

  6. 1. I feel that with recent modern technology, it’s as if we can track and spy on whoever we want, in the name of safety and security. Especially when I’m on Stockton campus, whenever you log into the Wi-Fi and/or your Stockton account, the university always knows who you are. Students should have more freedoms and less restrictions with technology, without getting the feeling that they’re being spied on.
    2. One thing that comes to my mind is with the Alexa devices listening and recording what you say. In recent reports that I have heard, it’s scary to know that Alexa is listening to what you say, and you don’t know who’s on the other end of that device. It could be the government or some foreign spy. Things like this will be made, but I think that more and more people will begin to be cautious about saying certain things in front of it, which would restrict freedom of speech.

  7. 1. In general, especially in recent history, the United States and much of the world is becoming a surveillance state. Everywhere you go, there are cameras and police that provide opportunity for constant surveillance. Stockton University is no exception, with cameras placed around campus and a constant police presence. Surveillance in general and on Stockton’s campus raises the question of whether or not cameras, etc, are actually being put to use, essentially allowing the University to function as a panoptic institution. Surveillance is a powerful tool that, even with the mere idea of being watched, offers a form of security. Personally, I have no qualms about creating safe environments in my life, but where it becomes an issue is over-surveillance and over-policing. Most people claim that since they don’t commit any crimes, surveillance should not raise any concerns, but without establishing a boundary of privacy, the definition of crime holds no bounds.
    1. With present-day technology like social media and smartphones, most people today see their electronic actions as something that can be used against them. With various laws and regulations being established in the last couple of decades surrounding online surveillance, our phones and online activity have become a form of espionage. The idea of a panopticon extends beyond technology and online activity, though. Police presence is a key component of everyday panoptic practices; even knowing that a cop could potentially be patrolling a certain area on the road can control how fast someone drives in that area. I know that I personally have experienced several police encounters where I was not committing any crime, but still had to show my I.D and speak to officers defending myself for things that are legal. Surveillance allows for people to find security in their everyday lives, but at what cost? When you’re constantly trying to avoid trouble even while you aren’t the cause, how can you justify living in a surveillance state? Moving into the future, obviously de facto panopticons will only gain relevance, but it is important to keep perspective on privacy and establishing boundaries on what defines criminal activity.

  8. 1. Stockton University is guilty of a panoptic institution in a few ways. When anyone is in the university, every student and their whereabouts is basically known at all times. This is due to their surveillance system. In the university, there are always going to be cameras everywhere you go. Through the cameras, the university will basically know where a student went at any time on any given day.

    2. The biggest way in which a de facto panopticon can be in my life is cell phones. Through cell phones, it is possible to be tracked in every aspect. Everything a person could possibly search up will always be known to cell phone companies or the government. A phone could be tracked down through cell towers, meaning anyones location can be found, no matter what you do to secure your own privacy. In a way, it takes away some of our freedoms of privacy. But from another perspective, surveillance and being watched at all times is for our safety and protects our country to a certain degree. I don’t think anything can be done to change this, as governments hold the power to oversee this, and they will use security and a nations protection as their excuse to continue on with their surveillance system.

  9. 1. Advancements in technology have allowed for things such as cameras, and tracking via GPS to become common aspects of normal life. Throughout Stockton there are many cameras and police officers, however they are not there for the purpose of constantly tracking people, but to ensure that people are following rules and not doing anything that could harm another. Having cameras spread throughout a building has become normal as they ensure security and safety. All of my other schools have also had cameras so that every point in the building could be seen, so I have become comfortable with the possibility of being watched.
    2. Another form of panopticon that I have become used to is always having my location available to my parents. They only began doing this when I got my driver’s license and only have it in case of an emergency so it is something I do not have an issue with. However I also have friends whose parents use this to try and control where they are going and what they are doing and I understand why this technology is something that is strongly disliked. It creates a rift between parents and their children and presents the idea that their parents do not trust them.

  10. 1) I believe that Stockton University in ways functions as a panopticon by the way that a lot of universities, in general, like to gatekeep types of thought that are considered problematic in the broad societal frame of view. That fundamentally disagreeing with what people consider moral or important issues can ruin your life or get you kicked out of college. Also, the fact that anything that you do outside of college can get you reported and disciplined as if you have no sense of freedom from any University. I don’t know how to feel about this fact because it could be considered a good thing because problematic people in this country are inherently damaging to the ideal that the elite is trying to construct of society, but if you value freedom over all things then you probably would not like that fact.

    2) Some other ways I can see de facto panopticons affecting my life is through the way that social media corporations record and sell all your information to other countries (China). I can see that much of what you do on the internet can be seen by the government, people in your city, and basically anyone that decides to look for you on the internet. That fact basically means that anything that you do, especially on the internet, is judged and that limits you to really any freedom from other people. I think that the only way that anything can be done about this limited freedom is by creating ways to bypass the government getting your data and as people to not care what you do in your pastime.

  11. Aidan Shandley
    Power and Society
    Dr Gust
    December 3, 2020

    In the day of age we live in, we are always being watched, whether we are aware of it or not. At Stockton, like many other universities or public buildings, there are cameras everywhere, none that I even notice particularly but I just know that they are there. By saying that, I think that directly correlates with the idea of a panoptic institution because I know that I could be being watched, without even noticing any cameras. Although in the dorm buildings, I am aware that there is cameras there and with the school being strict on Covid policies with no guests, I feel inclined to believe that I must be on my best behavior in the dorm buildings because despite not having someone physically present watching me, I know I could be being watched at any given moment. Like I said with it being this day of age, I don’t really have a problem with it having it be the new normal. Its main purpose is to keep people safe and I do not have a problem with that.

    Ways that a de facto panoptic plays a role in my life can be social media. As social media apps and widgets continue to revolutionize, there are more and more ways that the de facto panoptic plays into my life. Just through my social media, my friends can see where I am at, when I was last logged onto social media, and who I am with. On top of that, people can be tracked through life 360 where it can even record what you are saying, which seems crazy. In ways I believe it can be acceptable, although I think there is a line of privacy for oneself that should not be crossed. As we continue to revolutionize, I believe that there will be eventually a time where it will not be acceptable by the lack of privacy people will get through technology. If one wants to engage in social media, then they have to understand that your privacy could potentially be invaded.

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