Literature Review

Literature Review

Michel Foucault: “Discipline and Punish, The Birth of The Prison”

Michel Foucault wrote about how his theory of panopticism its disciplinary aspects derived from Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon and self regulatory mechanisms is applied to society as a whole. He also saw Jeremy Bentham’s design for the panopticon not only as a design for a prison, but as a disciplinary control mechanism and one whose principles could be applied throughout society.

This panoptic which he labelled apparatus- a series of interlinked disciplinary institutions which stemmed from the carceral through prisons, mental homes, hospitals, schools and factories formed the carceral archipego, a network of institutions that spread out through society and diffused until they almost became invisible and unrecognisable.


Giorgio Agamben: “What is an Apparatus and Other Essays?”

In What is an Apparatus, Giorgio Agamben extended Foucault’s set of apparatus’s to include linguistics, computers, and mobile devices in short anything that had the power to capture the individual. [1] Here Agamben was moving from rigid structural institutions, to more fluid entities, each with their own parameters and means of control. Agamben was interested in the network that existed between these entities and wrote about this being found between power relations and relations of knowledge.

So apart from the institutions and the other apparatus it was the intricacy and complexities in the way they operated in society.


Julia Angwin: “Dragnet Nation, A Quest for Privacy, Security and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance”

Julia Angwin explores data gathering and constant surveillance on the internet and the way in which companies profile web users by monitoring where they clicked on internet in which to send them information on related products “The Hall of Mirrors”, [2] or what she refers to as the use of online tracking ads.

Interesting Angwin talks about ways in which to avoid data tracking and examines ways that both she and her family do not leave a data trail, leading her to assess how companies (and online technologies) were invading her privacy and to form her own threat analysis and isolate each threat and how to counteract it.

Consequently one of the observations she made about protecting privacy and data was not to give it away in the first place, but highlighting an obvious although overlooked scenario that people just give their personal information away to companies online without even thinking about what it is going to be used for.


Siva Viadhyanathan: “The Rise of The Cryptopicon

Siva Viadhyanathan in his essay poses an alternative to the panopticon an intrusive version, due to its sheer scale with the ability to go unnoticed, he coined the phrase “Cryptopicon”, for this corporate and state surveillance mechanism, its real power lays in its mechanisms and date it generates i.e. browser cookies, data streams and satellite imagery while these go under many guises such as personal security, product improvement and lowering cost to customers, these are all covers to hide their real purpose i.e. to keep constant surveillance on every person. Recording what they do, where they go monitoring and registering every aspect of a person’s life, with them being unaware of the extent in which they are being surveyed.

The difference from the panopticon is that now we don’t know we are being watched or how we are being watched or by who. The cryptopicon is cryptic and its workings mysterious, its subjects will form themselves into groups and niches, which will then aid the profilers.


Shoshana Zuboff: “In The Age of The Smart Machine”

Shosana Zuboff in her book writes about the panoptic power of information technology and systems with the ability to “record, translate and display human behaviour”, [3]. Both Zuboff and Agamben place an emphasis on digital devices ability to “capture”, although the information systems unlike Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon do not need control towers, methods of observation or even buildings, as this version of information panopticon wields even greater although unseen power and can transcend across space and time.

Zuboff uses an example of panoptic power in action as Cedar Buff, whereby managers wanted to achieve transparency across all aspects of production, to implement this they used an overview computer system, which gave real time data, and on one screen could show the operations of the entire plant, [4]once managers had production information, they now had a tool to refer to and to improve employees output.


[1] Agamben, G., 2009. ” What is an apparatus?” and other essays. Stanford University Press. p.14.

[2] Angwin, J., 2014. Dragnet nation: A quest for privacy, security, and freedom in a world of relentless surveillance. Macmillan. P167.

[3] Zuboff, S., 1988. In the age of the smart machine: The future of work and power. Basic books. P.322.

[4] Zuboff, S., 1988. In the age of the smart machine: The future of work and power. Basic books. P.324.