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1984 and Panopticon: Utopia and Dystopia

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Over a long period of time, humans have discussed and developed the idea of forming and keeping society. Throughout these studies, they have created various concepts or words, like Utopia and Dystopia The word ‘Utopia’ was made by Thomas More in 1516. It is the term of nonexistent imaginative society that has perfect levels of everything for people. Dystopia, the antonym of Utopia, means ‘bad place’ in Greek. In fiction, it is usually described as a world with dictatorship or totalitarian government. These concepts have influenced a lot in both fictional and nonfictional worlds. As it is closely related to our society and aspects of the community, it is a conducive and essential study on the fields like philosophy, sociology, and psychology. In the fictional world, dystopia becomes the genre element of various novels, films, and media.

Surveillance and control are the factors that often be pointed out for the topic of community or society. Not all individuals are the same, but there are certain commonalities they show. For building a stable society, creating some efficient working space, criticizing some government, or studying human beings, with various reasons people have investigated these factors in a long time. In any case, with the history of society, people have done a lot of deep research on how to monitor and control humans, and they remain numerous theories and research books. Or they were moved to novels and movies. Numerous books, articles, articles, and media with these themes show different surveillance and control, and the author's view of human philosophy. George Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon could be examples of them. 1984, one of the most well-known dystopian novels in the world, definitely shows various factors of concept dystopia, especially with surveillance and control. Panopticon is the architectural type of building that also used as the philosophical term at the same time. These two are totally different types butt still they both shows, or employees some factors usually appear in dystopia and there are some similarities. In this paper, I would like to take out those similarities by analyzing those two in two criteria, the unconfirmed presence of observer and the composition of producing authority.

1984 is a dystopian novel written by Geoge Orwell in 1949 and it describes future totalitarian society under the fictional dictator Big Brother with fictional ideology English socialism. It is the story that describes the small individual, the main character named Winston, who tried to escape the big party who has the total authority but finally destroyed by the party. In this novel, Orwell shows a variety of ways of controlling citizens by the English Socialist Party, the fictional government in 1984 and called ‘the party’ in the novel. The ways that the party controls people could be classified in two different portions, surveillance and authority. Firstly, the party utilizes the observers for surveillance on its citizens to a large extent. There are ‘telescreen’, the device makes the party available to watch people what they are doing, in every citizen’s house. In this world, people should be careful of all of their behavior because there are ‘thought police’ that observe people and caught when they said something opposite to the party. But the biggest observer in this novel is Big Brother. The citizens in 1984 are not available to confirm that Big Brother exists in their eyes, but mass media always talk about Big Brother and there are the poster says ‘Big Brother is watching you.’ everywhere, like the following poster.


Regardless of whether Big Brother is the real person or not, these factors of surveillance create the effect of ‘unconfirmed presence of observer’ to the citizen. The normal citizens of 1984 are not available to meet Big Brother but the unconfirmed presence of him make as an existed dictator among the people by surveillance. Big Brother is not a real person but he is real through the people in Oceania, the fictional totalitarian country in 1984. In 1984, Controlling people with surveillance works with the fearness of people feels for the result after they got caught by the observers. There are different kinds of observers in this novel like brainwashed citizens, thought police, the party, but it is right that they all grouped under same thing. The numerous kind of observers also contributed to their unconfirmed aspects. This aspects lead the citizens of Oceania to do self-censorship. Moreover, the party in 1984 has the authority to control the media which makes them control citizens’ rights to know. As all of the information is being censorship by the government, the citizens are not able to know the reality of the world and there is no choice except to believe it because there is harsh surveillance around everywhere.

Secondly, the party’s variety of methods of controlling people in 1984 is related to the composition to construct their perfect and stable authority. The party of Oceania had researched the way for eternal authority, which prevents the potential future revolution among the people. So they create the composition of the society that creates and keeps their authority and position. In 1984, the people in Oceania are divided into three parts, Inner party, Outer party and the Proletarians. These are the social classes divide the citizens’ life. Inner party is the actual member of ‘the party’ who wants keeping their authority and position. Outer party is also a member of the party, but they are far away from the authority. The main character Winston is in this class. Outer party people are required hard and long working for the party and treated as the appurtenance of the party with strict surveillance. Proletarians, who called proles in the novel are the majority of Oceania. There is no strict surveillance like telescreen to proles but they cannot get an education, do harsh labor, and live in poor conditions. The living quality of proles is better than the outer party, but they treated like animals. In the novel, there is a sentence that shows the treatment of this class. “As the Party slogan put it: 'Proles and animals are free.'” (Orwell) The majority of proles in this novel can live freely if they are not concerned about anything related to the government and revolution. This social structure is the plan of the party to keep its power. They divide the potential groups of revolution in two, by controlling with freedom and information. Moreover, by using the media manipulation, the party reinforce this social structure. In the novel, the government only published low quality and obscene magazines, novels and medias for prole class people which block people to access high level education and knowledge which makes them keep in that position. For outer party members, they also blocked everything except the party and control them that they think as they become one body with the party. If there is someone who is trying to escape those conditions, the party arrest and brainwashed them.

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Now, let’s look through the factors of the panopticon. Panopticon is the type of architectural composition of prison created by Jeremy Bentham. It was originally created for the efficient management system for the laborers in the factory, but Bentham realized that is is the structure of surveillance works in prison. The basic composition of the panopticon is the big circular structure building around the one building for the guard. The main point of this structure is that the guard is able to see the prisoners but the prisoners are not. The image of panopticon would help to understand the point.

Reveley, Willey, Plan of Jeremy Bentham's panopticon prison, 1791

“The abandoned Presidio Modelo complex”, 1995, The Guardian

The prisoners cannot confirm the presence of the observer. This factor makes the prisoners to do the self-censorship. Bentham’s concept had more discussed in the philosophical field as the concept of construction on the surveillance system. So the key concept of the panopticon is the state of unbalance between the person who has the power to monitor and the people who are being monitored, which the people are not able to know whether they are in the state in which the monitor is constantly monitored, though the presence of the monitor is not revealed. In ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’ written in 1975, the author Michel Foucault talks about panopticon. Foucault not only just stayed the panopticon on the architectural structure but also enlarged its significance related to modern society’s surveillance.

Secondly, panopticon also shows how it works as the composition to create the authority. According to Michael Foucault, the concept of the panopticon is quite similar to the surveillance of these days, the information age. A large number of people are being controlled by a small number of people who monopoly the information in that place. The imbalance of information constructs the unbalance of power and authority. According to Foucault, panopticon described as the composition that not only oppressing for the authority but also ‘producing’ the authority. Seeing something is the chance to know something visible in philosophically. Thus making someone cannot see something in that place is the inequalities of the information which enable the transfer of the power to a small number of people who are able to see more. This composition makes the information is gathered to the central monitoring tower and produce the authority itself by the structure. By this structure, the people being observed become the person who are controlled by internalizing this gaze which they even do not know whether they are being watched or not, when they exposed that condition for a long time.

There are various aspects of surveillance and controls in both George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘1984’ and Jeremy Bentham’s architectural structure of prison ‘Panopticon.’ These similarities could be divided into two types, the unconfirmed presence of the observer and the composition produce the authority. The unconfirmed presence of the observer makes people to the self-censorship and also created the imbalance of information which also leads to the structure to create the difference of authority. In 1984, the strict surveillance and the brainwash on the citizens make the party, Big Brother controls the citizens. For the case of panopticon, it makes the prisoners are not able to know the presence of the guard so they feel being watched regardless whether the guard is actually there or not. Both of those aspects are in close relation to the inequality of information. As in these days society, information is the significant factors of community, these factors are not only existed in the fictional novels or theory, but also impacted a lot in modern society systems of surveillance.

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1984 and Panopticon: Utopia and Dystopia. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from
“1984 and Panopticon: Utopia and Dystopia.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022,
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