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About the Author

Wouter Dijkstra
ICT4Development researcher (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Personal: Wouter Dijkstra is a Social Scientist, interested in the use of new and old media to strengthen public debate and mechanisms of accountability in Africa. With degrees in both Anthropology and New Media and an extensive background in Africa he is based firmly in contemporary theory but even more in practical reality. In 2009 he went to Uganda together with the ICT4Uganda research group, guided by Dr Geert Lovink. He finished research on the power of talk-radio and the emergence of mobile telephony in Uganda. Based on this research he coined the term ICT4Accountability. This is still an ongoing research. At this moment he is working for TRAC to set up platforms for public debate in east-Africa, through the use of mobile telephony and FM radio. This organization is currently in a startup phase.


Foucault, Bentham and wireless

Published 24th August 2010 - 4 comments - 7567 views -

‘Quis custodiet ipos custodes?’
(Old Latin saying meaning: ‘Who will watch the watchers?’).

ICT4Accountability logoThe emblem accompanying the term ICT4Accountability symbolizes the panoptic- or all-seeing prison. In his book ‘Discipline and Punish’ (1977), one of the most influential theorizers of modern society, Michel Foucault, describes the panoptic prison as a metaphor for the power relations within modern society. The prison was originally invented by Jeremy Bentham in 1785. In the architecture of the ‘panopticon’ a central guard tower is erected in the middle of the prison, the windows in the tower allows the guard to look out, but no-one is able to look into the tower (think of blinded glass). Cells are built around the central tower within sight of the guard.

Without being able to view the guard in the centrally located tower, an all-seeing gaze is marked yet masked, at once visible and invisible. Foucault’s thesis follows that, since prisoners must therefore assume that they could be at any time under the watchful eye of the tower, they begin to self-discipline their behavior. Even if the guard is not present in the central tower, prisoners will feel ‘the gaze’ and will behave according to the rules. Michel Foucault applies this model or ‘diagram’ to society as a whole. The presence of (central) authority should be internalized by the people, creating self-discipline.

ICT4Accountability builds on the panoptic theory. However, it proposes to ‘invert’ the direction of the gaze, thus, enabling the many to watch the few. The panoptic prison, which Foucault methaphorically uses to describe control within  modern society can be used to describe the possible impact new media could have on the contemporary political powers.

Real Panopticon

New comunication technologies are used to turn the gaze around and allow citizens to monitor the ´guardians´ of society (including corporate media). By creating the feeling of a constant monitoring gaze among leaders, ‘inverted panoptic surveillance’ can internalize discipline and correct behavior.

I know this may all sound like a lot of theoretical #@$%.. It is.. I would not dare to post this if I had no ideas on how to use the process described above in practice. I will go into this in the next post.


  • Helena Goldon on 25th August 2010:

    Looking forward, Wouter! How do you plan to construct something similar (I presume) to the Foucault’s panoptic prison and why?

  • Johan Knols on 25th August 2010:


    Nice comparison between the panoptic theory of a prison and that of watching policy makers.
    I am under the impression though that the more policy makers feel they are being watched, the less transparent and more secretive they get. It would most likely lead to more in-depth journalism than is now already the case.
    Curious if your ‘solution’ will change my fears.

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