UCL News


Watching you watching Bentham: The PanoptiCam

17 March 2015

This month sees the launch of PanoptiCam, an online camera that streams the live view from Jeremy Bentham's auto-icon in the South Cloisters.


The interdisciplinary research project has been set up as a tongue in cheek comment on Bentham's Panopticon prison - a prison designed to allow a single guard to observe all inmates at any time without their knowledge. Bentham believed that prisoners would modify their behaviour for the better as they had no way of knowing whether or not they were being observed.

The PanoptiCam will capture people's reactions to the auto-icon and stream a live camera feed online to generate days in the life of Jeremy Bentham's current, yet eternal, viewpoint.

The project, which is a collaboration between the UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, UCL Public & Cultural Engagement, and UCL's Bentham Project, hopes to raise questions on the surveillance state, online observation, digital scrutiny, and the routine recording of public spaces. Beyond this the camera will also be used to test algorithms to count visitor numbers to museum exhibit cases using low cost webcam solutions.

Professor Melissa Terras (UCL Centre for Digital Humanities) said "The PanoptiCam shows UCL's distinct sense of humour - we all respect and are incredibly fond of the Auto-Icon, but working on this project allows us to play with issues which are confronting us every day in modern society, whilst hoping to understand the number of visitors Jeremy actually attracts. Although a simple premise, this required work with UCL Museums and Collections, The Bentham Project, and UCL CASA, indicating the often playful but interdisciplinary nature of much work at UCL."

Dr Andrew Hudson-Smith (UCL Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis) said - "The PanoptiCam is there as a nod to our increasingly surveyed society, it is, as Bentham would have perhaps approved (in the right circumstances) leaving the watching to the watched."

Nick Booth (UCL Public & Cultural Engagement) - "When Bentham died in 1832 he left his body to be dissected and then displayed; the first request shows he wanted to get as much use out of his corpse as possible and the second, just possibly, suggests he had a slightly unusual sense of humour. I believe he would have enjoyed the PanoptiCam and appreciated its humour and utility. I'm certainly looking forward to finding out how many people come see UCL's mascot each day!"



  • PanoptiCam logo