Participatory Panopticon

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The Participatory Panopticon, or Sousveillance = the conscious capture of processes from below, by individual participants


James Cascio

"The idea of the emerging participatory panopticon scares a lot of people. That's not surprising; after all, there are numerous ways in which a world in which millions of us carry always-on, mobile networked recorders could lead to invasions of privacy, harassment of the powerless, and an increased coarsening of public discourse. But if we accept the notion that the participatory panopticon is a likely consequence of otherwise desirable improvements to communication and information technologies, it becomes incumbent upon us to think of ways to use it as a tool for good." (

Participation Capture, Sousveillance, Panoptical surveillance

Sousveillance is the conscious capture of processes from below, by individual participants; surveillance is from the top down, while participation capture is inscribed in the very protocols of cooperation and is therefore an automatic ‘inscription’ of what we are doing:

In English, on the emergence of the Participatory Panopticon:

"Soon -- probably within the next decade, certainly within the next two -- we'll be living in a world where what we see, what we hear, what we experience will be recorded wherever we go. There will be few statements or scenes that will go unnoticed, or unremembered. Our day to day lives will be archived and saved. What’s more, these archives will be available over the net for recollection, analysis, even sharing.

And we will be doing it to ourselves. 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 and tags 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. We will carry with us the tools of our own transparency, and many, perhaps most, will do so willingly, even happily. I call this world the Participatory Panopticon." ( ;)

Michael Zimmer

" Surveillance, of course, implies the “watching over” of subjects from above, with an explicit power relationship between the watchers and those placed under its gaze. Trying to describe surveillance as “peer-to-peer” suggests a flattening of the power relationship that is counter to its very definition. Similarly, the notion of a “participatory panopticon” is at the same time redundant and contradictory. Foucault revealed how panoptic power becomes internalized by the subjects, thus, they necessarily “participate” in their own subjugation. Yet the top-down power relationship within the panoptic structure remains. The participation by the subjects does not make them equal with the watchers. Yet the informational voyeurism associated with Web 2.0 seems to imply a balance between the users: one shares their data streams in order to improve the overall worth of the network, coupled with the presumption that they’ll be able to observe and leverage others’ streams as well.

This notion resembles that of “equiveillance,” a state of equilibrium between the top-down power of surveillance, and the resistant bottom-up watching of sousveillance. Yet, this notion implies merely a balance in access to surveillance information, and is focused more on how to reach some kind of harmonious relationship with our rising surveillance society. With the informational voyeurism of Web 2.0, however, the goal isn’t to resist or come to terms with the power yielded by traditional surveillance, but rather to participate in a widespread and open sharing of the mundane details of one’s daily life. To give one’s peers a glimpse into one’s own personal universe." (

In French:

"Surveiller veut dire veiller par au-dessus. On fait ici référence à l'oeuvre de Michel Foucault? Surveiller et Punir, où est relaté le principe du panoptisme, architecture des prisons modernes qui permettent à une seule personne de tout voir depuis un point central. C'est donc un concept à la fois physique, hiérarchique et spirituelle. Souveillance indique implicitement le contraire, c'est-à-dire veiller par en-dessous (voir article smartmobs (anglais)). La sousveillance est l'art, la science et la technologie de la capture (mise en mémoire) de l'expérience personnelle. Elle implique le processing, l'archivage, l'indexation, la transmission d'enregistrements audiovisuels par le moyen de prothèses cybernétiques telles que des assistants à la vision, à la mémoire visuelle, etc. Les problématiques légales, éthiques, réglementaires impliquées dans la sousveillance sont encore à explorer. Considérons cependant un exemple tel que celui de l'enregistrement d'une conversation téléphonique. Lorsqu'une ou plusieurs des parties concernées enregistrent la conversation, on appelle cela la sousveillance alors que lorsque la même conversation est enregistrée par une entité externe (ex : les renseignements généraux enregistrant une conversation confidentielle entre un avocat et son client), on appelle cela de la « surveillance ». La surveillance audio est autorisée dans la plupart des Etats alors que la sousveillance ne l'est pas." ( )

More Information

  1. An update by author Jamais Cascio, at, and here at
  2. Listen to his podcast at
  3. A related example: the Texas Governor plans to implement a P2P-based video surveillance system on the U.S.-Mexican border, so citizens can participate in law enforcement, at
  4. Overview of tools at
  5. Related concepts: Sousveillance, Peer to Peer Surveillance, Netaveillance