Panopticism is a symmetrical structure in which one party is under surveillance by another party that cannot be similarly inspected. It originates with the architectural design of a prison wherein the guards can always see the prisoners, but the prisoners cannot see the guards. This is because there is a guard tower in the center and inmate cells arranged around it.

The term derived from the idea of prison by Jeremy Bentham in 1700. The panopticon prison was meant to be both economically efficient and morally effective. A small number of guards are needed to observe. A few guards could observe many prisoners, and the prisoners themselves could be directed to perform profitable labor. Additionally, this contributes to the prisoners' safety and well-being. No prisoner could suffer in health without anybody noticing, and prisoners would still be protected from one another.

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