Definition of panopticon in English:



  • A circular prison with cells arranged around a central well, from which prisoners could at all times be observed.

    • ‘The panopticon, an 18 th-century prison design dominated by a central viewing tower, called for an elimination of privacy and constant surveillance of prisoners.’
    • ‘Initially, the panopticon was a model prison designed by the Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham.’
    • ‘Foucault's panopticon kept popping into my head, with the concentric circles of observation used for prisons and experiments.’
    • ‘Instead of the center being a site of viewing and a mastering gaze - as it would be in an actual panopticon - it was to be an open area that was seen from all the booths.’
    • ‘Modern prisons are modelled after John Stuart Mill's panopticon, and sentries can indeed see everything.’


Mid 18th century: from pan- ‘all’ + Greek optikon, neuter of optikos optic.