The Paradoxes in the Use of the Panopticon as a Theoretical Reference in Urban Video-surveillance Studies: A Case Study of a CCTV System of a Brazilian city

  • Iafet Leonardi Bricalli University of Genoa


This article aims at introducing the relation between the use of CCTV systems in urban spaces and social control. More specifically, its purpose is to problematize and reaffirm the use of the theoretical background of the panopticon in order to interpret such a relation. In CCTV studies, as a consequence of literal interpretations, as well as the existence of a hegemony in ethnographic studies carried out in control rooms, the theoretical use of the panopticon is then questioned. In this article, based on an ethnographic study conducted in the public spaces surveilled by a CCTV system in a Brazilian city, it can be concluded that the effects of social control through surveillance are paradoxical. The indifferent way in which citizens deal with surveillance, or even the lack of awareness of it, imposes limits to the interpretation of the system as a tool of social control. Thus, the use of the panopticon becomes problematic. However, this research has shown how the presence of cameras in public spaces makes it conducive for a state of control in the form of a network whose project would be a mythical and homogeneous ordering of the spaces. The importance of the interpretation of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon by Michel Foucault is then reaffirmed, that is, panopticism as a trend of normalization and moralization of the public spaces.

Author Biography

Iafet Leonardi Bricalli, University of Genoa
Iafet Bricalli has a degree and a Masters in Geography from the Federal University of Espírito Santo, located in the southeast of Brazil. During his academic formation, he has been interested in the field of Urban Geography research, particularly in the areas of urban segregation and socio-spatial control. He is currently a PhD candidate in Social Sciences at the University of Genoa (Italy).


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