Dystopic prisons in panoptic fiction

Presented by ANU College of Law

Over the centuries, Bentham’s Panopticon scheme has triggered a wide range of political, philosophical and literary responses. The present research wishes to shed new light on panoptic references in “Vigilance” (Patrick McGrath, 1989), Green River Rising (Tim Willocks, 1994) and The Panopticon (Jenni Fagan, 2013) from a prison management perspective, focusing on the representations of prison staff and management, rather than on inmates.

The unbuilt panoptic prison was brought to life unexpectedly by literary fictions. Novels thus make it possible to explore the scheme, providing relevant representation of how it could have operated. They highlight the successes and flaws of the panoptic project in the prison or juvenile detention system. They also resonate with the social and political issues which were discussed at the time when they were written. Taking into account both the context of writing and the creative freedom writers take with the original Bentham project, the talk aims to show that these novels or short stories are dystopian representations of both Bentham’s scheme and contemporary prison management.