Panopticism in the Classroom

Table of Content

A panopticon is a well-designed circular building in which is always under complete surveillance, allowing the observer to see everyone within the perimeters while people are not able see or acknowledge them back. Michel Foucault mentions in his essay entitled “Panopticism” that there is a common resemblance to this 17th century structure, to many different, but common spaces in today’s society.

Although some may say there is no way we live with the in-depth surveillance a panopticon had, but when comparing the panopticon structures to today’s typical, everyday routines, one may begin to acknowledge there is a less noticeable way of being watched. For instance, a classroom is a reoccurring, modern day example of the Foucault description of a panopticon. This example of a modern panopticon shows the growth and development of the ubiquitous acceptance of the panopticism that students seam to be subconsciously influence by.Based on the type of arrangement in the classroom there can be different set powers that can be established between the teacher and students.

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

One may also notice resemblances in modern day structure of a lecture hall, and the different types of conformity both teacher and students participate in, all of which reflect back on Foucault-based panopticism. “Power” may be defined as one having the ability or right to delegate, act, direct, and or influence others or certain events because of ones higher status.In a classroom setting we have the students and teacher/s; students learn from the teachers, who obtain the information on what to teach from a higher panel of educators, who previously obtained that information from an even higher panel of educators, and the line goes on. The process of passing the knowledge is done to help students get the correct information they need succeed to reach higher places in life, preparing them to someday obtain a higher role.

This development starts even as young as elementary students.Michael Gallagher analyzed primary schools in the United Kingdom for an empirical investigation on the school system and the panoptic spaces used within them, he states, “A more efficient [classroom needs]…the use of training and correction to produce docile, useful, bodies” (Gallagher 263). The panoptic classroom helps the educational system accomplish its own scholarly goals, as well as the student’s goal on succeeding. The overall purpose of a classroom is to learn and succeed, and when using the panoptic raditions, it allows students to attain their goals, sometimes even relating to the structure of the classroom.

As mentioned before the Panopticon is an architectural figure that is annular building, with a tower that allows surveillance into every room at anytime. Though this is type of architecture is uncommon in modern day buildings, one may recognize the similarities they can identify in an average college lecture classroom. Smith “Lawr 7” would not be identified as a regular classroom because of its circular shape.The chairs are in a semi circle formation with desks connected at the sides, that seats approximately 150 students, all of which face the center/front where the teacher’s desk and walking area is.

It is a small but spacious room with pillars behind the last row, and has cameras visible when entering the room and a few scattered around the ceiling that are hard to find. Though not the exact same, one can begin to view the similarities to the architecture of Foucault’s panopticon. For instance, the circular formation with the teacher located in the middle.This allows the observer (teacher) to be able to see every student’s actions and faces, making any disobedience or interruption by a student visible at all times.

Primarily the set up was made for the teacher, “…to induce in the [students] a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power” (Foucault 214). This is more or less creating a hierarchy of discipline, allowing them to know they are being watched and it is in the students’ hands as to what they want to do with it.Although the set up of Smith “Lawr 7” is not the exact same as the panopticon most of the elements remain. When interacting with the teacher, especially in larger rooms such as Smith “Lawr 7”, the teacher tries to make the effort to look directly at the student, to create that feeling of exclusiveness.

During this the other students are supposed to be either facing forward or switch their stare to the student/teacher who is speaking. With the circular setup even if the teacher looks around for less than a minute he/she can view everyone.Students know, “power should be visible, so that the [student’s are] always aware of a watching presence” (Gallagher 266). Especially in the circular based classrooms, not only should students be aware of the teacher watching them, but other students around them, “teachers [do] not have the monopoly on surveillance; everyone seemed to become caught up both in being surveyed and in the surveying” (Gallagher 265).

This feeling of constant surveillance and ability to survey reinforces the social power structure of the student-teacher relationship.In a panoptic classroom, the focal point of the room is directed at the teacher, making it easier for the instructor to command the attention of the students; imposing a “power figure” mentality and the respect of the students. In a traditional, square style room students are more likely to stray their focus from the teacher to other distractions because, pending on where the teacher is looking or standing, a student can feel detached and uninvolved in the lesson material. A panoptic style classroom almost eliminates this distant feeling because, simply because of seating arrangement and angle, the student much watch/engage the instructor.

A panoptic style classroom greatly benefits teachers. Because of the level of surveillance they can impose on students, they command most, if not all, of the power in the room. When one becomes the center point of attention it becomes easier to enforce discipline and respect because the structure of the room makes the teacher an authority figure. This makes the lesson and commentary of the teacher seem more important and crucial, making the students pay more and better attention.

Merely the structure of a classroom could be the difference between and boring lecture and vital information that must be noted.A panopticon is designed to allow maximum surveillance and promote the authority of the observer. Allowing the power, structure, and the knowledge that gets passed down through it adapt easily in time. Panoptic structures are all around modern society and can lead to the constant watch of everyday interactions and activities.

This creates a subconscious and instant respect for the power of observation. Whether it be in a classroom, sports arena, or even a gas station panoptic structures create and distribute power throughout society in something as minute as the architecture of a building.

Cite this page

Panopticism in the Classroom. (2017, Apr 26). Retrieved from

Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront