On Panopticism: the World Exhibition of Paris (1867)


World Exhibitions can be called the phenomena of the nineteenth century; they were organized to  teach people about the ‘state of civilization worldwide’. The motto of the exhibition was: “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all nations”. This motto implies that there was an equal distribution of exhabition-space between participating countries; in practise, of course, it didn’t exactly work out that way. [1]

In my previous blog I posed the notion of present Panopticism. In this blog I’d like to give you – as a reader – a little insight on the relation between Panopticism and World Exhibitions; in particular the World Exhibition of Paris (1867).

Uncannily similar

For the World Exhibition of 1867 in Paris, a new architectonal masterpiece arose in the French capital. This building should – as the motto implied – be divided in equal pieces; one look at the picture above shows us that the building – almost uncannily – looks like Bentham’s Panopticum. In my opinion, there can be only one good reason why the organisators chose for the Panoptical form.

Arranging the world: obsessive desires in the eightteenth and nineteenth century

Chosing for a Panoptic architecture might have got something to do with the desire of clarity, manageability and orderliness, which we can find again in contemporary (nineteenth century) products such as the Encyclopedia (the almost obsessive desire to arrange the whole world in one book selection), Darwin’s evolution-theory (the obsessive desire of arranging species in one book) or colonialism (the obsessive desire of arranging the world, literally). [2]

Using Bentham’s architectural form of the Panopticum made arranging the world in one building incredibily easy; every country had its own space in which they could show their Works of Industry. There was only one problem: the spaces weren’t equally big, which resulted in few imperial countries having too less space to expose all their ‘high-tech- industry’ and some ‘imperialized’ countries with room left to show-off their greatest Works of Industry. It is said for this reason that the choice for a Panoptic building was a smart ‘Western’ idea to show off their power – when you look at the exhibition from the centre of the building (as Bentham said from off a watchtower), you see a panoramic horizon of Western production. But, you actually look down on the small colonies.


To conclude: I’d like to say that this blog is just an idea I had about World Exhibitions. Perhaps I should work out this idea more carefully, but I really do think that World Exhibitions were organised to show off Western superiority; using Bentham’s Panopticum gives Western colonizing countries the ability of showing off their ‘loot’ (colonies). I think this blog has shown, at least, the importance of the Panopticum – in particular in relation to Foucault’s theories – in the Western culture.

Made by Jul (Tess)


Lecture “European culture: worldexhibitions”, Tom Sintobin (September 6th, 2012) Nijmegen: Algemene Cultuurwetenschappen (Cultural Studies).

[1] Lecture “European culture: worldexhibitions”, Tom Sintobin (September 6th, 2012) Nijmegen: Algemene Cultuurwetenschappen (Cultural Studies).

[2] Lecture “European culture: worldexhibitions”, Tom Sintobin (September 6th, 2012) Nijmegen: Algemene Cultuurwetenschappen (Cultural Studies).


2 thoughts on “On Panopticism: the World Exhibition of Paris (1867)

  1. Dear Jul,

    My compliments again on this very interesting blog in which you elaborate on the analogy between Panopticism and World Exhibitions, in particular the World Exhibition of Paris, 1867. Your point of view is imaginative and unique and, not in the least, you wrote the blog with respect for the word limit. Chapeau!

    I would like to make some loose remarks considering some things that struck me while reading your essay.
    I like the fact that you used a lecture by dr. Tom Sintobin from 2012 as your primary source. It shows that you are not afraid to think outside of the box regarding the gathering of helpful scholarly sources. Having said that, there’s no harm in using a couple of sources more.
    The structure of the essay is again very clear. The introduction is as to the point as can be, no superfluity whatsoever. But I do think it is unnecessary to divide the central part (‘Uncannily similar’ and ‘Arranging the world’) of your blog in two paragraphs. As far as I’m concerned, the two parts are too intertwined to be standing apart from each other.
    The fact that you are writing another blog dealing with Panopticism is nice. The continuity between your first and second blog is strong and it would be very interesting to see you tackle Panopticism again in your last blog, from yet another angle. Having said that, the relation between ‘Digital Art & Culture’ and the analogy Panopticism/World Exhibitions is not entirely clear to me. You could have made that connection more explicit, by referring to a recent World Exhibition for example, one from our digital age.
    Regarding the spelling: ‘choise’ must be ‘choice’. Mind the semicolons. I don’t believe they are that significant.
    In my first comment I forgot to give you props for the tags you put on the blog. Nice going.

    Made by Jut.

    • Jut! Thank you for your critical comment ;). I have made some rearrangements concerning the text. I do understand that you had some problems understanding the relation between Digital Art and my blog; but this blog was just an idea I had about Panopticism. I’ll update two more blogs in which I’ll discuss the notion of Digital Art more clearly!

      Made by Jul.

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