by Benjamin Dada
“Originally surveillance cameras systems were installed to deter burglary, assault and car theft but their use has been extended to include combating ‘anti social behaviour’, such as littering, urinating in public, traffic violations, obstruction, and drunkenness (Davies 1998 as cited in Isnard 2001)”
In an article I published today on TechCity, I made an attempt to find out why Bus Drivers in the UK tend to be more civilised than the ones from my home country, Nigeria. Not too long into that study, I found my answer in a concept called Panopticism — a social theory named after the Panopticon. Trust me, this is only one way to look at it, but it might as well be valid (following the logic applied).
What is a Panopticon?
Before I bore you with a definition I would provide you with an example — the CCTV (one of the most commonly used item to illustrate the concept). Come with me as we explore how it operates.
How does CCTV operate?
“CCTV (Closed Circuit TV) uses one or more video cameras to transmit video and sometimes audio images to a monitor, set of monitors, or video recorder…” says Tech-FAQ.
The way it works, you know you are being watched but cannot ‘watch’ the person watching you.
Michel Foucault (1975) as cited in the Guardian puts it this way “He is seen, but he does not see; he is an object of information, never a subject in communication.” (Interesting! And unfair perhaps, I mean, if you look at the idea of you being watched but can’t watch the person watching you; it might be quite annoying and unfair).
Guess what? I still haven’t told you what a Panopticon is 🙂 Ok, so here we go.
Towards a definition of a Panopticon
According to the Oxford Dictionary used by Google; A Panopticon is “a circular prison with cells arranged around a central well, from which prisoners could at all times be observed”.
Now, this concept was proposed by Jeremy Bentham but widely expanded upon by Michel Foucault in his book “Discipline and Punish”. In Thomas McMullan’s article published in the Guardian (2015); he explains the set-up of a Panopticon this way “…there is a central tower surrounded by cells. In the central tower is the watchman. In the cells are prisoners — or workers, or children, depending on the use of the building. The tower shines bright light so that the watchman is able to see everyone in the cells. The people in the cells, however, aren’t able to see the watchman, and therefore have to assume that they are always under observation.” (emphasis mine).
Although, the basic tenets for the Panopticon is enforcing discipline in cells; this same idea can be applied to other institutions with surveillance needs like schools, hospitals, banks etc. (can you now see where the CCTV- a tool for digital surveillance comes in? 🙂 ).
Going back to the article I published on TechCity where I was looking at the difference in behaviour between these two classes of workers (drivers in this case) in different societies (UK and Nigeria). First thing that came to my mind was the cultural upbringing. Now, that I have learned about Panopticism, I have come to discover that the culture in a place shaped by occurrences, concepts and ideas accepted as the rule. And one of such is the Panopticism.
Where I come from, we don’t have nearly as much digital surveillance mechanisms (which are used to curb anti-social behaviour, as seen in the opening quote) as such, the animalistic behaviours in humans is bound to rare its ugly head. If you asked which state has the most CCTVs you’d get answers pointing to the UK, never Nigeria. And David Barrett in his article posted in The Telegraph reports that “One surveillance camera for every 11 people in Britain”. Also, Stop De Dief on Quora submits that “UK has 1% of world’s population but 20% of its CCTV cameras…”. As a result, I am led to believe that this might be one of the reasons for the courteous and polite behaviour (many) of the UK drivers exhibits. This idea that they are being watched is engrained into them (subconsciously).
Therefore, I believe if developing countries with stereotypes of hurry, rush and fight for scarce resources can implement this Panoptical approach to dealing with anti-social behaviours a lot would be improved. Of course, there is another case to be made for Corruption.
One reason why Panopticism works is that it reduces cost of hiring law-enforcement personnel. Because the subjects being watched don’t know the times when they might not be watched. Hence, they live in that consciousness and fear of being punished.
An argument against panopticism is that it could be used as a tool for oppression. While that is true, I still believe implementing a type of panopticism can be beneficial to restoring order in Nigeria. Also, on the flip side, we can implement the anti-panopticism that Bentham talks about for our Politicians & lawmakers, “…where a minister sits in an exposed room and is surrounded by members of the public who listen and ask questions.” This way, everyone gets a chance to be an observer and a subject.
Thanks for getting up this point in my post. If you’d like to have a chat about this; kindly comment below. Also, if you agree (even just a little) with what I have said kindly give this post a ♥ ; it acts as an encouragement to me as I put in so much work to get this opinions out. Thank you once again.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija