panopticana design for PRISONS which was intended to allow warders to oversee every aspect of the inmates’ lives. As such, the panoptican has often been regarded as symptomatic of a new emphasis on SURVEILLANCE and SOCIAL CONTROL in modern societies (see also FOUCAULT).
Invented by the English UTILITARIAN philosopher, Jeremy BENTHAM, in the early 19th-century, the panoptican was intended as a new, rational prison design, geared to personal reform as well as confinement and punishment. The idea did not only relate to the structure of the building, it involved a complete philosophy of imprisonment, incorporating ideological and organizational features as well as architectural ones. These included a strictly organized day, based around the reformatory influences of hard work and prayer, based on a single-cell system so as to avoid the moral contagion of association with other criminals. The physical design was intended to make perpetual observation and control possible. In many respects this idea broke sharply with previous conceptions of imprisonment and may be seen as part of a rationalization and rethinking of the role of imprisonment. It was linked to new ideas about the value of work: indeed, many writers have argued that there was an integral connection between the developing factory system and the regulation of the poor through the Poor Law and the reorganized prison system, although the early expressions of this theory are sometimes considered overstated. What is clear is that the panoptican may be seen in a context of major revision in the ideology of punishment and ‘correction’. It influenced a number of prison projects in Britain, the US and elsewhere. See also CRIMINOLOGY.