Carceral Society

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  • Created by: Rebecca
  • Created on: 09-04-13 14:49

The Panopticon - Bentham (1791)

Pan: all, optic: seeing

Panopticon - 19th century prison

Round building with all cells facing inwards to the central tower

Prisoners can be observed at all times

Designed to ensure prisoners could not see inside the tower

Prisoner would never know when he was being surveilled - mental uncertainty part of punishment

Bentham saw this prison reform as a model for how society should function. To maintain order in a democratic and capitalist society, the populace needs to believe that any person could be surveilled at any time

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What is a carceral society?

Based on the premise of the panopticon

Contemporary society is structured differently from the society that preceded us

Effects with regard to the power of the individual and the control of government

Most influential work, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

Transition from what he terms;

A "culture of spectacle" where punishment was inflicted on the body in public displays of   torture, dismemberment, and obliteration to;

A "carceral culture." whereas punishment and discipline become internalized and directed to the constitution and, when necessary, rehabilitation of social subjects

Presently we have a culture in which the panoptic model of surveillance has been diffused as a principle of social organization, affecting such disparate things as the university classroom, urban planning, hospital and factory architecture and so on

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The effects of a carceral society

The Internalisation of Rules and Regulations

·         Less willing to contest unjust laws

·         Conformity in studies (Zimbardo and Milgram)


Rehabilitation rather than Cruel and Unusual Punishment

·         Against inhumane treatment of prisoners

·         Judges of normality e.g. teacher-judge, doctor-judge and social worker-judge

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The effects of a carceral society

Surveillance into Private Aspects of Our Lives

·         New surveillance technology; CCTV, tracking etc.

·         Always being watched


Information Society

·         Challenges to the retrieval of data

·         Ability to collect and organise vast amounts of data quickly

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The effects of a carceral society


·         Need for labour force to maintain functioning of new technology

·         Encourages separation from real people – they become statistics and paper work



·         Value placed on most efficient means of organising data

·         Sometimes at the expense of exploitation or injustice

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The effects of a carceral society


·         Increased reliance on other ‘experts’ to complete tasks

·         Tasks may have previously been shared or common knowledge

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