The Inverted Eye. Panopticon and Panopticism, Revisited

Petra Gehring


Panopticism is commonly taken to rely on something like a panoptic gaze – a reading of Foucault which still prevails in the discussion of today’s surveillance (and subjectification) technologies in the wake of Surveiller et punir. In my re-reading of the relevant chapters of Foucault’s book I argue that the gaze does not occupy a central role in the techniques of discipline and power that Foucault describes. Quite to the contrary, Foucault analyses virtualization and automatization procedures that – after cutting off of the King’s head – invert and eliminate the sovereignty of the gaze as well: they also rip out the sovereign’s eye. Surveiller et punir thus should be read as a book about a certain eyelessness of the modern political. Where truly modern power is assumed to be, there is nothing to be seen. This also means that panopticism does not provide a master key to understand digital technologies of power.


Panopticism; power; examination; subjectification; examination; digital technologies

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