Bentham, Deleuze and beyond: An overview of surveillance theories from the panopticon to participation

Maša Galič, Tjerk Timan, Bert Jaap Koops

Research output: Contribution to journalSpecial issueScientificpeer-review

152 Citations (Scopus)


This paper aims to provide an overview of surveillance theories and concepts that can help to understand and debate surveillance in its many forms. As scholars from an increasingly wide range of disciplines are discussing surveillance, this literature review can offer much-needed common ground for the debate. We structure surveillance theory in three roughly chronological/thematic phases. The first two conceptualise surveillance through comprehensive theoretical frameworks which are elaborated in the third phase. The first phase, featuring Bentham and Foucault, offers architectural theories of surveillance, where surveillance is often physical and spatial, involving centralised mechanisms of watching over subjects. Panoptic structures function as architectures of power, not only directly but also through (self-) disciplining of the watched subjects. The second phase offers infrastructural theories of surveillance, where surveillance is networked and relies primarily on digital rather than physical technologies. It involves distributed forms of watching over people, with increasing distance to the watched and often dealing with data doubles rather than physical persons. Deleuze, Haggerty and Ericson, and Zuboff develop different theoretical frameworks than panopticism to conceptualise the power play involved in networked surveillance. The third phase of scholarship refines, combines or extends the main conceptual frameworks developed earlier. Surveillance theory branches out to conceptualise surveillance through concepts such as dataveillance, access control, social sorting, peer-to-peer surveillance and resistance. With the datafication of society, surveillance combines the physical with the digital, government with corporate surveillance and top-down with self-surveillance.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)9-37
Number of pages29
JournalPhilosophy & Technology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - May 2016


  • Surveillance theory
  • Discipline
  • Control
  • Surveillant assemblage
  • Surveillance capitalism
  • Participatory surveillance


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