Are schools panoptic?

Micheal Gallagher

Abstract


Schools are often understood by social researchers as panoptic spaces, where power is exercised through constant surveillance and monitoring. In this paper, I use Foucault’s notorious account of the Panopticon as a point of departure for a detailed empirical investigation of the specificities of surveillance in schools. Drawing on ethnographic data from fieldwork in a primary school, I argue that how surveillance actually operated in this context diverged from the panoptic programme in two crucial ways: surveillance was (i) discontinuous rather than total, and therefore open to resistance and evasion, and (ii) exercised through sound and hearing as much as through vision.

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