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Panoptic Power and the Pathologisation of Vision: Critical Reflections on the Foucauldian Thesis.

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • Majid Yar
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>2003
<mark>Journal</mark>Surveillance and Society
Issue number3
Number of pages18
Pages (from-to)254-271
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This article attempts to evaluate theoretically the applicability of Foucault’s Panopticon to the practices of public surveillance utilising CCTV technology. The first part maps out three “strands” in the reception of panopticism in surveillance studies, suggesting that it tends to fall into one of three broad kinds: its wholesale appropriation and application; its wholesale rejection as inadequate with respect to a supposedly “post-disciplinary” society; and its qualified acceptance subject to some empirically-dependent limitations. I then attempt in a preliminary way to supplement these three positions. In particular, I question the logical adequacy of equating visual surveillance with effective subjectification and self-discipline by drawing upon a range of philosophical and sociological perspectives. Philosophically, it is suggested that the Foucauldian thesis may well “pathologise” the relationship between subjectivity and visibility, and thereby overlook other dimensions of our experience of vision. Sociologically, it is suggested that the precise relation between surveillance and self-discipline requires us to attend, in ethnomethodological fashion, to the situated sense-making activities of subjects as the go about everyday practical activities in public settings.