Academic research around my chosen theme

Below is a documentation of how Charlotte found the appropriate academic theme to justify the idea of Utilitarianism, taken from her blog:

Following our previous research on a chosen theme last term, I am going to be expanding this research broadening my knowledge on the theme, Information and Control.

Last term I was interested in looking at the Utilitarianism theory, which tied closely to Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon method of surveilence.

Jeremy Bentham and Utilitariansm

  • Utilitarianism is a philosophical theory created by Scholars Bentham and Mill. Although split into Act and Rule Utilitarianism, the overall idea is to enable people to help make the correct decisions that they may face through maxmising the possibility of the best consequence. (Nathanson,S. n.d.)
  • Bentham answered the question of what good is through the idea of hedonism. Hedonists define something to be good if they are ‘intrinsically’ good (good within themselves). Not, because they produce some further valuable thing. (Nathanson,S. n.d.)

Loving big brother – John E. McGrath (2004)

  • Following on from the idea of the panoptican and Utilitarianism regarding surveillance within society. I found a link between these two ideas and how it is ‘just’ for a utilitarian to propose an ethical decision with the greater good in mind.
  • This for me links heavily to the idea of surveillance within society such as cctv. McGrath(2004) states in his Book ‘Loving Big Brother’ that “surveillance is routinely justified in terms of crime prevention and routinely criticised as an invasion of privacy.” He then goes on to discuss how the history of surveillance cameras within the UK is tied up to football related violence, initially attempting to curtail ‘hooligans’ from out-breaking and by the end of the 1980’s crowd surveillance at football matches were routine.
  • I would argue this idea of having CCTV cameras as a deterrent for misbehaviour has escalated enormously, leaving the UK with an estimate of between 4 million and 5.9 million CCTV surveillance cameras.
  • McGrath discusses the idea that even though some may argue this surveillance is an invasion of privacy, for some reason we love to be watched and watch whose being watched. He then goes on to talk about how he would endlessly enjoy watching the Television reality tv series Big Brother, and also footage from September 11. (911)
  • This concept for me brings out the human need, to want to see and know everything. However, this concept for me is something I would like to bring forward within my project, in the sense of control within society.

Which lead me on to the writer David Lyon.

Surveilence society – Monitoring everyday life (2001)

  • The first point that came to my interest when reading parts of this book, was Lyons idea of disappearing bodies. He describes this as being something when we do things at a distance, he uses the example of “making a phone call means communicating by voice alone, but even when we email, that trace of embodiment is gone…typed symbols like smileys are meant to stand in for the invisible face.”(Lyon, D. 2001)
  • Lyon goes on to explain that since the 1960’s bodies have been disappearing at an accelerating rate. He states that “Communication and information technologies enable not only fax and fixed phone communication, but also email, credit card transactions, cell phones and the internet”(Lyon, D. 2001).
  • This idea of disembodied communication for me relates heavily to the surveillance within society, whether it’s CCTV, cellular tracking, Wi-Fi tracking and so on. Although you’re not being followed by a physical person, the technology is able to track you.
  • Lyon then goes on to discuss some of the consequences of disembodied relationships, one of them being: Modern notions of ‘public’ and ‘private’ are challenged. He states that “the boundaries between them are blurred when all manner of once ‘private’ life details circulate within a very ‘public’ computer.”
  • This consequence goes back to the whole idea of surveillance within society and the idea of privacy and freedom when communicating.

The electronic eye: the rise of surveillance society (1994)

  • In this book Lyon raises the very valid point that surveillance within society is not a recent occurrence. It started way back ever since modern governments registered births, marriages and deaths.
  • This to me is a very interesting point because it highlights that the government played a huge part in this. When I think of a controlled society I think of the power within, politics, the government and the jurisdiction. Although not formally surveillance technology, the idea of tracking specific life events, such as birth, marriage and death, still captures some sort of knowledge and control within the society.
  • Lyon says that “Surveillance expands in subtle ways, often as the result of decisions and processes intended to pursue goals such as efficiency or productivity…Most surveillance occurs literally out of sight, in the realm of digital signals. And it happens…in the commonplace transactions of shopping, voting, phoning, driving and working.”(Lyon, D. 1994)
  • This then raises the point that “people seldom know that they’re subjects of surveillance, or if they do know they may be unaware of how comprehensive others knowledge is.”(Lyon,D. 1994) However, if one wanted to remain anonymous they would have to use techniques which may take longer such a just paying with cash, having a phone which is untraceable or using systems such as Linux which provides a closed source operating system.


Nathanson, S., The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Available from: [Accessed 06 December 2016].

Lyon, D. (2001) Surveillance Society: Monitoring Everyday Life [online]. ed. Buckingham: Open Univ. Press.

Lyon, D. (1994) The Electronic Eye: The Rise of Surveillance Society [online]. Cambridge: Polity Press.

McGrath, J.E. (2004) Loving Big Brother: Performance, Privacy and Surveillance Space [online]. London: Routledge


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s