STS 229
The Panopticon: Surveillance, Power, and Inequality Fall 2019
Division II Difference, Power, and Equity
Cross-listed STS 229 / SOC 228
This is not the current course catalog

Class Details

Surveillance is built into the very fabric of modern life. From CCTV cameras, to supermarket loyalty cards, to the massive gathering of personal data on social media sites, people participate in today’s “surveillance societies” just by doing everyday activities. This course uses the metaphor of the “Panopticon” as a doorway to engagement with traditional and new forms of surveillance. First described by philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham, the Panopticon is a physical structure that enables one observer to see all inhabitants without those inhabitants knowing if they are being observed. In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault famously expanded thinking on the Panopticon as a metaphor for the “disciplinary” power that lies at the heart of inequality in modern society. Since Bentham and Foucault’s time, however, surveillance technologies have changed significantly. To what extent does the concept of the Panopticon give us purchase on today’s surveillance societies? How does watching people with new digital and algorithmic surveillance technologies shape the exercise of power and, in turn, (re)produce forms of inequality? Are these technologies always bad? Can they be used for good? Topics include: the historical origins and expansion of surveillance in modern societies, the emerging total surveillance state in Baltimore City, the U.S. military drone program, surveillance in the workplace, and whether social media is turning us all into self-surveillance addicts.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 20
Expected: 10
Class#: 1086
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: discussion participation, six reading responses (1- to 2-page papers), Facebook data essay (3-5 pages), final paper (8-10 pages)
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: Anthropology and Sociology majors
Distributions: Division II Difference, Power, and Equity
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
STS 229 Division II SOC 228 Division II
DPE Notes: This course explores how power is distributed unequally through the mechanism of surveillance technologies, particularly in regard to racial and class differences. Among other topics, it will consider the concrete case of surveillance in Baltimore City and the question of if and when surveillance is appropriate there given the city's current crisis of gun murders. Students will discuss whether and how to conduct surveillance in a context shaped by deep racial segregation and class inequality.

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