Big Brother is Watching You: Panoptic Control in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four
George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, first published in 1949, is a vision of socialism gone wrong. The setting of Oceania is a world ruled over by an oligarchical collective, “The Party,” which wields absolute power through a formidable combination of surveillance technology and the operation of the principles of “panoptic control,” a concept drawn from Jeremy Bentham’s model prison design of the late 1700s and revived by Foucault in the mid 1970s. The combination of surveillance technology and panoptic control is central to the functioning of power in Orwell’s novel, a union which has created a self-sustaining form of totalitarianism dependent on the oppression of individual identity for its automatic perpetuation. This essay offers a reading of Nineteen Eighty-Four as an implicit critique of Bentham’s Panopticon which in many ways foreshadowed the later work of Michel Foucault on the functioning of power within this specific type of physical and social architecture.
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