Panopticism is not Enough: Social Media as Technologies of Voluntary Servitude

Alberto Romele, Francesco Gallino, Camilla Emmenegger, Daniele Gorgone


The article aims to offer a new theoretical framework for thinking about surveillance and control in social media. In the first section, the authors show how Panopticism found breeding ground in social media studies. Yet they claim that despite an expanding critical literature, not much seems to be changing in prosumers’ practices online. Their hypothesis is that this is happening not only because individuals are forced or cheated by the technical systems, as it has been usually argued, but also because they voluntarily submit to them. For this reason, in the second section, the authors introduce the notion of voluntary servitude, coined by Étienne de la Boétie in the XVIth century. Voluntary servitude is a paradoxical notion because it represents the attempt of tidying up two opposite facts: human beings’ will of freedom and their reiterated submission. In the third section, they make the notion operative in the context of social media by focusing on privacy as the counter-discourse of surveillance. In conclusion, the authors deal with the emancipatory character of voluntary servitude, as well as with the concept of subjectivity it entails.


Social media, voluntary servitude, Panopticon, surveillance, privacy, emancipation

Full Text:


Copyright (c) 2017 Surveillance & Society

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.