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The Participatory Panopticon and Human Rights: WITNESS' Experience Supporting Video Advocacy
Unformatted Document Text:  capture/distribution and by an empowered citizenry. The ‘participatory panopticon’ is a term coined by the American futurist Jamais Cascio 25 to describe a situation where everyone has access to personal, mobile, networked recording devices (in his vision, they are wearable and always on), and record a significant proportion of what they see and hear. He draws of course on the panopticonic idea as presented by Jeremy Bentham and re-worked by Foucault. He draws of course on the concept coined by the late eighteenth century philosopher Jeremy Bentham to describe a prison building where the guard is able to observe all the prisoners, and they will not know it, and then re-worked by Foucault as a metaphor for modern ‘disciplinary’ societies, and the power of constant, efficient observation by society and the state. As Cascio describes it, his participatory panopticon bears a striking resemblance to Peter Gabriel’s vision of fifteen years ago: “This won’t simply be a world of a single, governmental Big Brother watching over your shoulder, nor will it be a world of a handful of corporate siblings training their ever-vigilant security cameras…. on you. Such monitoring may well exist, probably will, in fact, but it will be overwhelmed by the millions of cameras and recorders in the hands of millions of Little Brothers and Little Sisters. …. In the world of the participatory panopticon, this constant surveillance is done by the citizens themselves, and is done by choice. It's not imposed on us by a malevolent bureaucracy or faceless corporations. The participatory panopticon will be the emergent result of myriad independent rational decisions, a bottom-up version of the constantly watched society.” (Cascio, 2005) In this section of the paper I explore the current reality of this ‘participatory panopticon’ and to what extent the constituent parts for it currently exist in relation to human rights monitoring – what types of footage are being filmed, and by who, and what are the spaces for sharing citizens’ experiences of human rights violations. I also look at emerging questions of transparency, trust, re-victimization, and how we make judgments about collective truth in this new environment, as well as how we handle new forms of storytelling, and a culture of sharing, re-appropriation and remixing. Finally, I move on to questions of efficacy within a more narrow framework– what makes for effective advocacy and justice in this environment, particularly from the perspective of DRAFT NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION The Participatory Panopticon and Human Rights: WITNESS' Experience Supporting Video Advocacy 12

Authors: Gregory, Sam.
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capture/distribution and by an empowered citizenry. 
The ‘participatory panopticon’ is a term coined by the American futurist Jamais Cascio
to describe a situation where everyone has access to personal, mobile, networked recording 
devices (in his vision, they are wearable and always on), and record a significant proportion of 
what they see and hear. He draws of course on the panopticonic idea as presented by Jeremy 
Bentham and re-worked by Foucault. He draws of course on the concept coined by the late 
eighteenth century philosopher Jeremy Bentham to describe a prison building where the guard is 
able to observe all the prisoners, and they will not know it, and then re-worked by Foucault as a 
metaphor for modern ‘disciplinary’ societies, and the power of constant, efficient observation by 
society and the state.
As Cascio describes it, his participatory panopticon bears a striking resemblance to Peter 
Gabriel’s vision of fifteen years ago:  
“This won’t simply be a world of a single, governmental Big Brother watching over your 
shoulder, nor will it be a world of a handful of corporate siblings training their ever-vigilant 
security cameras…. on you. Such monitoring may well exist, probably will, in fact, but it will be 
overwhelmed by the millions of cameras and recorders in the hands of millions of Little Brothers 
and Little Sisters. …. In the world of the participatory panopticon, this constant surveillance is 
done by the citizens themselves, and is done by choice. It's not imposed on us by a malevolent 
bureaucracy or faceless corporations. The participatory panopticon will be the emergent result of 
myriad independent rational decisions, a bottom-up version of the constantly watched society.” 
(Cascio, 2005) 
In this section of the paper I explore the current reality of this ‘participatory panopticon’ and to 
what extent the constituent parts for it currently exist in relation to human rights monitoring – 
what types of footage are being filmed, and by who, and what are the spaces for sharing citizens’ 
experiences of human rights violations. I also look at emerging questions of transparency, trust, 
re-victimization, and how we make judgments about collective truth in this new environment, as 
well as how we handle new forms of storytelling, and a culture of sharing, re-appropriation and 
remixing.  Finally, I move on to questions of efficacy within a more narrow framework– what 
makes for effective advocacy and justice in this environment, particularly from the perspective of 
DRAFT NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION
The Participatory Panopticon and Human Rights: WITNESS' Experience Supporting Video Advocacy
12


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