The Birth of the Museum

August 24, 2011

The essay commented on the exhibitionary aspect of museums and expositions and likens the devices used in prisons to ‘abolish the crowd conceived as “a compact mass, a locus of multiple exchanges, individualities merging together , a collective effect” and to replace it with “a collection of separate individualities”’[1], so as not to create an unruly crowd internally. This is similar to the prison inner workings in that groups that gather are seen to have a more chaotic effect, and therefore the result is to isolate each prisoner. However, looking at the results of expositions, such as the Great Exhibition where the greatest surprise was the ‘orderliness of the public which, in spite of the 1,000 extra constables and 10,000 troops kept on stand-by, proved duly appreciative, decorous in its bearing and entire apolitical’[2], one finds that the order of natural surveillance within these realms affect the public as soon as they enter. Having vantage points that allow the physical ability to watch over the crowd but at the same time being watched over:

‘to see and be seen, to survey yet always be under surveillance, the object of an unknown but controlling look….transforming the crowd into a constantly surveyed, self-watching, self-regulating, and, as the historical record suggests, consistently orderly public – a society watching over itself’[3]

This ultimately comments on the functionality of the panopticon in prison modules where it focuses on being watched and never knowing when you’re being watched. It would seem that the successful application in the public realm within expos add an additional element, of a non-hierarchical method of surveillance instead of the ‘inmate constituting the point at which all these looks culminate’[4], which puts a mental strain on the prisoner, never providing a rehabilitative measure for them.



Jacky Chan

[1] Tony Bennett, Pg. 68 ‘The Birth of The Museum: History, theory, politics’, 1995

[2] Ibid, Pg. 72

[3] Ibid, Pg. 69

[4] Ibid, Pg. 69


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