Let’s talk about ceiling scanners…


The topic of this video is “digital surveillance.” I was inspired to make it after Leiden University made an announcement last week that they been using ceiling scanners to count the number of staff and students in attendance. After the announcement, many of the student meme accounts at Leiden began posting about the news, and there was a strong feeling that this move by the university was an invasion of privacy. Hearing and reading about the outcry, I was reminded of the concept of the panopticon which was revitalised by French philosopher Michel Foucault in the 1970s. The set up of the panopticon is a central tower surrounded by cells. In the central tower is the watchman and in the cells there are prisoners. The tower shines a bright light so that the watchman is able to see everyone in the cells. However, the people in the cells aren’t able to see the watchman and so they must assume that they are always under observation. Foucault argued that the panopticon was being used as a disciplinary mechanism in modern society to subjugate citizens. However,  the goal of the modern panopticon is to make those in the system forget they are under observation. In this way, I believe Leiden University’s digital surveillance exemplifies the modern panopticon.


Information on Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/23/panopticon-digital-surveillance-jeremy-bentham

Michel Foucault: Discipline and Punish: https://monoskop.org/images/4/43/Foucault_Michel_Discipline_and_Punish_The_Birth_of_the_Prison_1977_1995.pdf

Mare’s article on the ceiling scanners: https://www.mareonline.nl/achtergrond/opeens-hangen-er-overal-slimme-cameras-en-die-zien-alles/

Leiden University’s announcement: https://www.staff.universiteitleiden.nl/announcements/2021/11/university-using-ceiling-scanners-to-count-students-and-staff-in-attendance?cf=governance-and-global-affairs&cd=fgga-board-office

Memes about the ceiling scanners: https://instagram.com/intstudies.memes.leiden?utm_medium=copy_link

Image of the ceiling scanner: https://www.mareonline.nl/achtergrond/opeens-hangen-er-overal-slimme-cameras-en-die-zien-alles/

Image of the panopticon: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticon

Image of the panopticon: https://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/21/books/review/the-panopticon-by-jenni-fagan.html

Image of the panopticon: https://www.brown.edu/Departments/Joukowsky_Institute/courses/13things/7121.html

video clips of Leiden University: https://youtu.be/5l1gccCR2Mo