Surveillance // CTS

This particular lecture centred around the idea of surveillance within society. Many years ago, the idea of surveillance was present in religious forms. This was evident in works by Hieronymus Bosch which centres the words “take care, take care, God sees you” around scenes of everyday life. Surveillance is also shown in things such as ‘The eye of Providence’ (a similar theory to Bosch’s painting). The eye of Providence is often referred to as “The all-seeing eye”. This holds such religious significance and acts as a reminder that there is existence of a higher being. This also plays a huge part in other mysterious organisations such as the freemasons. The freemasons are an organisation who ultimately believe in a supreme  being and base much of their activity around being moral and kindness.


Table of the Seven Deadly Sins, Hieronymus Bosch


Also, other artistic representations on the idea of surveillance include illustrations by Althansisus Kircher, which show aspects of observing. In this particular image, there is small tunnels between each room where one can listen into other rooms. Originally, this illustration was a theory of music amplification, but when studied, could also show ideas of spying or surveying. Musurgia universalis


Musurgia Universalis, Althansisus Kircher (1650)

Other examples of surveillance in art history include further pieces by Bosch. In this particular image, it shows an owl in a tree with ears and a field consisting of eyes. This was visual personification to demonstrate the idea of surveillance. This image is extremely powerful as it allows the viewer to actually consider who could be watching them.


The hearing forest and the seeing field, Hieronymus Bosch

According to Giddens, modernity came in the form of four things which help contribute to modern day. Industrialism, surveillance, capitalism and military power. With industrialism, came the transformation of nature and the development of a specifically created environment. Regarding surveillance, control of information was introduced along with social supervision amongst certain social status groups. After surveillance came the rise of capitalism. It was here when the industry, trade and products of a country was more controlled by private owners for profit. Following capitalism was the rise of military power. This lead to the future industrialisation of war.

Surveillance can also be perceived through form. The crystal palace was a glass and cast iron structure designed by Joseph Paxton. The building was designed to replicate a type of greenhouse. Inside you could see everybody and everyone from the outside could see you. This links to the Haussmanisation of Paris, this was initially the making of a modern city. The came around the time of 1852-1870, it also continued after Haussmann to 1882.

The modernisation of Paris from the view of Haussmann worked in the way of creative destruction. He began to clear all of the slums and also worked to open up the city. Haussmann wanted to expand local businesses to help project costs. This lead to the commercialisation of streets with lots of cafes being built in the city. With this, an emphasis on the theory of the ‘flaneur’, a man who wonders aimlessly yet observantly within society. Also, Haussmann wanted people to explore and make use of the city through social activity. Also within this modernisation, he ensured faster traffic, more parks and public spaces, uniform buildings and eventually an ease of movement for the military.

In all of this, visibility is key as before all of the above happened, the working class had taken over Paris, so Haussmann wanted to control its in habitants and place strict rules and regulations on behavior and the way that people should behave within society.

In relation to this, Jeremy Benthen designed “The Panopticon Prison”. This was a development from the western system of prisons, it dismissed more traditional methods of punishment such as torture and public humiliation and advanced more towards efficient ways of conditioning behaviour by encouraging people to learn how to act correctly within society. The Panopticon Prison was a circular building witch centred around a tower. Each cell of the prison was filled with light and had a glass front. The guard tower had mirrored glass and complete view of all the cells. This design made the prisoners conscious about being watched as they could not actually see who was in the tower, they could only assume that somebody was there. With this came control, whilst the prisoners would be crippled under the power of the prison, they would control their actions under the fear of being observed. This would condition the inmates to behave in the correct way and learn how to act in society.

In modern day terms, we as a nation have been taught to be aware of who we could be being watched by Benthen’s theory. Our society sees organisations having constant visibility; hospitals, schools, prisons and even the streets on which we walk. All of these are monitored by CCTV. This is often based on the concept that if power is not seen, it will often not be resisted. To link back to Panopticism, it used to create order, not necessarily just about visibly and surveillance. It plays roles in social sorting and the social class system. Some social classes are more monitored than others due to race, age, or ethnicity.

much of this can be linked back to things such as ‘The Gaze’, the desire to control and a reach for power over others. Scopophilia can also suggest this act of watching as a desirable method of surveillance. Modern technology such as oyster cards and even Facebook show how we as a society have even become inclined to offer information up about or daily activities.

Surveillance plays a huge part in the order of our society and will continue to do so in the future. For now the act of surveillance grows and allows us to live in a world where we feel safer in our everyday lives.

Annotated Bibliography Example:

Foucault, M. (1975). Discipline & Punish. NY: Vintage Books.

This particular book, written by French philosopher Michel Foucault, speaks about how shifts in the culture of our society has dominated the idea of prisons and power as a means of changing behaviour. It describes the layout of Jeremy Benthem’s Panoptic Prison with the tower and the mirrored glass to show how people become aware of their actions. Throughout the rest of the book, Foucault also mentions ideas behind torture, punishment and discipline. He mentions this regarding things like force, organisation and control within large groups. I have used pp.195-228 of this text to demonstrate the aspect of surveillance.






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