SOC 228
The Panopticon: Surveillance, Power, and Inequality Spring 2025
Division II Difference, Power, and Equity
Cross-listed STS 229

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 when 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? Can privacy, convenience, and safety ever be truly balanced? Topics include: the historical origins and expansion of surveillance in modern societies, policing and state surveillance, and social media surveillance.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 15
Expected: 15
Class#: 3270
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: participation, reading responses, midterm essay, final paper
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 by police in Baltimore City and the question of if and when surveillance is appropriate there, given the city's ongoing crisis of citizen and police violence. Students will discuss police surveillance in a context shaped by racial segregation and class inequality.

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