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Bachelor thesis

“Where you think no one sees you –
do what you want!”
Nineteen Eighty-Four and Upper Secondary School Students’
Perception of Surveillance

                                 Author: Tobias Svensson
                                 Supervisor: Per Sivefors
                                 Examiner: Anna Thyberg
                                 Term: Fall 2020
                                 Subject: English
                                 Level: Bachelor
                                 Course code: 2ENÄ2E

The purpose of this essay is to juxtapose students’ perceptions of surveillance to the

surveillance portrayed in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. By using Michel Foucault’s

expansion of Jeremy Bentham’s discussion of the Panopticon, this essay shows that upper

secondary school students modify their behaviour, like the characters in the novel, when they

are under surveillance. Furthermore, this essay argues that even though there have been vast

developments in the field of surveillance since the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four,

similar notions of concern regarding the impact of surveillance on the human psyche are still

upheld by students. This essay expands upon current research which points to desensitization

regarding the impact of surveillance on younger generations and a gap between current

knowledge and necessary knowledge for an informed opinion. By juxtaposing students’

perceptions of surveillance and that portrayed in Nineteen Eighty-Four, this essay provides

insights into why this topic could be dealt with in the EFL-classroom as a means of providing

students with the opportunity to develop their knowledge on social issues and cultural features

which could make them more aware of the cultural impact of constant surveillance.

Keywords: George Orwell, surveillance, panopticism, post-panopticism, student perspective
Table of contents

1 Introduction                                                 1

2 Overview of the implications of surveillance                 3

 2.1             Panopticism and post-panopticism             4

 2.2             Surveillance and dataveillance               6

 2.3             Students’ perceptions of surveillance        7

3 Juxtaposition of Nineteen Eighty-Four and upper secondary

students’ perceptions of surveillance                         11

4 Nineteen Eighty-Four in the EFL Classroom                   17

5 Conclusion                                                  20

Works cited                                                   23
1 Introduction

One of the themes in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) is how constant

surveillance affects the human psyche. Written after the Second World War, Orwell’s novel

creates a futuristic dystopia where a totalitarian government rules through fear and

punishment. The protagonist, Winston Smith, reflects upon his experience of living in a

totalitarian state where surveillance by “Big Brother” is one of the key factors of the

government’s ability to control their subjects and tries to subtly rebel against it. In the story,

the reader follows Winton’s hate-filled rebellion against “the Party,” a rebellion that can only

take place in privacy. However, using “telescreens,” monitors that both send and receive

visual and auditory information, the notion of privacy is strictly limited by the ruling class.

The constant monitoring through telescreens, and additionally the constant reporting of

suspicious behavior, i.e., behavior that does not comply with the strict social norms imposed,

have made a code of law redundant. As everyone is constantly supervised by cameras,

microphones, and suspected by their peers, the novel portrays, among other themes, how to

comply with, and rebel against, such infringements of privacy.

        The theme of constant surveillance in Nineteen Eighty-Four and its infringement of

privacy is a theme that have been examined countless times before. Many previous studies on

surveillance in Nineteen Eighty-Four have relied heavily on Michel Foucault’s expansion on

Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon.1 The Panopticon is a circular prison with a watchtower in the

middle from where all inmates can be seen at any time, hence the term panoptic, meaning all-

seeing. For the literary analysis, this thesis will follow the same trail as previous research, as it

will examine the panoptic aspects of the surveillance portrayed in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

However, surveillance today is no longer seen as merely a panoptic phenomenon. According

 See e.g., Michael Yeo’s article “Propaganda and Surveillance in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: Two
Sides of the Same Coin.”

to Kevin D. Haggerty and Richard V. Ericson, both the Panopticon and George Orwell’s Big

Brother have for a long time dominated the discussion related to the developments of

surveillance. They argue, however, that both Foucault’s and Orwell’s concepts must be

stretched beyond recognition in order to suit the current developments in the area and choose

thus to use different analytical tools to explore aspects of surveillance (607-08).

Technological advances, both in general and for the purpose of surveillance, have reached

further than Orwell and Foucault could imagine. The expansion of surveillance has been aided

by intensifications and variations in the capability of technology, and the vast and rapid

growth of monitoring devices. The introduction of smart phones, social media, and a vast

digitalization of ordinary life has also brought about new ways of surveilling individuals

through the collection of data and metadata, thus producing the field of dataveillance. Hence,

surveillance today is better understood by a post-panoptic framework than a panoptic, as

information about objects is no longer just collected from a literal all-seeing perspective, but

also through the collection of metadata. While panopticism focuses on the relation between

the observer and the observed, in Bentham’s and Foucault’s case the prison guard and the

inmate, post-panopticism broadens the view to a multiplicity of observers on a single object.

However, Orwell’s portrayal of how constant supervision affects the human psyche bears

resemblance to how students from around the world reflect upon being under constant


       The aim of the study is to thematize upper secondary school students’ perspectives on

surveillance and privacy and to compare these with the perceived reactions to panoptic

surveillance portrayed in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Much research has been conducted on which

kinds of surveillance systems that are prevalent in school environments in different parts of

the world, but not much focus has been aimed at understanding how this affects the students

from the students’ own perspectives. Although a panoptic lens has been applied to Nineteen

Eighty-Four by others, this thesis claims that even though the structure of surveillance is

vastly different today, similar notions of concern are still held by students today as when

Nineteen Eighty-Four was first published in 1949. As students around the world have varying

concerns regarding surveillance, control, discipline, and privacy, it seems reasonable to

examine why Nineteen Eighty-Four can be used in the EFL classroom to deal with these

newly emerged and vastly expanding social issues and living conditions. According to the

syllabus for English in Swedish upper secondary schools, all students should be given the

opportunity to develop “[t]he ability to discuss and reflect on living conditions, social issues

and cultural features in different contexts and parts of the world where English is used” (Natl.

Ag. f. Ed. 2). This thesis argues that Nineteen Eighty-Four can be used in the EFL classroom

to give the students an outlet to deal with their issues related to constant supervision, which

over the years have become more and more prevalent in our society. Contemporary research

suggests that “students’ current understanding of surveillance, privacy and related concepts is

quite basic even though it is clear that they are concerned by current developments” (Eleyan

and Persson 24-25), but also that “[s]urveillance has become a normalized facet of young

people’s online lives” (Shade and Singh 9). Students’ own perception of surveillance is not a

heavily researched topic; however, being under constant surveillance has become a living

condition that many students have concerns about. This study aims to point to a small gap in

the field by juxtaposing of Orwell’s novel and students’ perspectives on surveillance, thus

trying to provide some new material that can be further developed by others.

2 Overview of the implications of surveillance

In this section, the foundations of the theoretical approaches panopticism and post-

panopticism will be outlined to provide a clear picture on how surveillance can be used to

monitor peoples’ behavior. Furthermore, a discussion on the two terms surveillance and

dataveillance will be conducted to make the distinction between the two terms clearer. This

will be followed by an overview of the research conducted on students’ perception of school

surveillance from three countries. The interviews published in these texts constitute the basis

for the upcoming analysis where they will be juxtaposed with segments of Nineteen Eighty-

Four and Michel Foucault’s discussion on the Panopticon.

2.1 Panopticism and post-panopticism

In the book Discipline and Punish, Foucault examines the development of the penal

institutions in the West and reflects upon the topic of surveillance in relation to this. Foucault

discusses the architectural structure of Bentham’s Panopticon, which is designed to observe

and control its inmates efficiently. The Panopticon is an annular building surrounding a

watchtower, from where one can see into the ring. The annular building is divided into cells,

from where one can only see the watchtower, as walls separate individuals from each other

(Foucault 200). From the point of view of the guardian, a mass of people is separated,

numbered, and supervised, while the individuals are isolated and observed in solitude. This

creates the major effect of the Panopticon: “to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and

permanent visibility that assures the automatic function of power” (Foucault 201). The inmate

is always an object of information. This will, according to Foucault, make sure that the inmate

is always on his best behaviour, since he may at any moment be observed. The effect of

panopticism is successful as the suppression is internalized by the inmates, thus making them

guard themselves. As will be shown in section three, the effect of panopticism is visible both

in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and in interviews with upper secondary school

students from three different countries.

       In contrast to panopticism, post-panopticism sees a vast network of surveillance and

data gathering that do not necessarily comply with the top-down surveillance, observer-

observed, subject-object relation put forth by Foucault. This newer stance on surveillance is

described as rhizomatic, a concept developed by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. In their

book A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari argue that all things do not form a cohesive

whole, but instead that there are multiplicities that cannot be subsumed under a guiding

principle or totality. They connect this to bulbs and tubers, which are rhizomes. Rhizomes are

plants which grow in surface extensions with interconnected vertical root systems, in contrast

with arborescent plants which usually grow with deep roots and above surface level branch

out from the trunk. What they mean by this is that rhizomatic structures do not have a mapped

trajectory. They seem to grow in which direction they please, they do not have a beginning

nor and end, and do not necessarily follow the normal ideas of cause and effect – there seems

to be no proper way to understand it: “The rhizome operates by variation, expansion,

conquest, capture, offshoots” (Deleuze and Guattari 21). When you engage with a rhizome,

you do not engage with a single unit or individual, you are engaging with multiplicities of

things, which are all interconnected. This presents a kind of radical egalitarianism where

everything is recognized as being just part of everything else, or at least having the potential

to be connected to everything else. A structure that is rhizomatic is thus also very difficult to

remove, in contrast to an arborescent. An arborescent structure may be plucked out by the

roots and tossed aside, while “[a] rhizome may be broken, shattered at a given spot, but will

start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines” (Deleuze and Guattari 9). To

summarize, a rhizomatic structure differs from a traditional arborescent one mainly in the

sense that the former operates through connections on a multitude of levels whereas the latter

has an easily identifiable structure, often following a mapped trajectory, making it easier to

eliminate. In contrast to panoptic surveillance, where there generally is a top-down relation

between the observer and the observed, a post-panoptic structure of surveillance will have

multiple observers, and the observers might themselves be observed by others.

2.2 Surveillance and dataveillance

Surveillance can be defined in a few different ways. Traditionally, there are two approaches to

examining surveillance: a neutral approach, and a negative approach (Fuchs 135). Neutral

approaches to surveillance argue that any form of systematic information gathering is

surveillance, and that surveillance is both necessary for organization and a fundamental aspect

of all societies. Based on a neutral surveillance concept, all gathering, and storage of

information is crucial for both sustenance and development. In contrast, negative approaches

to surveillance regard it as:

        a form of systematic information gathering that is connected to domination, coercion,

        the threat of using violence or the actual use of violence in order to attain certain goals

        and accumulate power, in many cases against the will of those who are under

        surveillance. (Fuchs 135)

Strictly speaking, negative approaches to surveillance focus solely on how gathering of

information may be used as a leverage against the person being observed, while neutral

surveillance simply collects and stores information. Discussions regarding what impact

surveillance has on the observed mainly uses the negative approaches to surveillance, a trend

that will be followed by this thesis.

        Post-panoptic surveillance techniques are conducted mostly through dataveillance.

Dataveillance is described by José van Dijck as “a form of continuous surveillance through

the use of (meta)data” (198). In contrast to surveillance, according to van Dijck, dataveillance

is not conducted for any specific purpose, but rather just the collection of data for unspecified

purposes (205). However, not all researchers wholly agree on this. According to Sara Degli

Esposti, there are four categories of action which define dataveillance (211). Recorded

observation is the first step in the process of dataveillance, which refers to paying close

attention to a group or an individual by either watching or listening, in order to store and

gather information. Closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems are a typical example of a

technology used for this purpose. Secondly, identification and tracking are conducted to

identify the object and track its movements and/or motives. Identification is done by

recognizing a person’s identity through analysis of the person’s unique features. Tracking is

done by tracing the individual once it has been identified. The third category is analytical

intervention. This refers to the transformation of the collected data into knowledge through

analysis. Problems might arise in this step of the process if the knowledge produced is

considered as absolute truths and used as a basis for recommendations of public policies or

business decisions. According to Esposti, “when the knowledge produced through analytical

intervention is translated into organizational strategies, procedures and practices, we are

observing the last and most controversial category of action of dataveillance - i.e. behavioral

manipulation” (212). Behavioral manipulation refers to the ability to influence people’s

actions intentionally, however, the term “manipulation” does not take into consideration if the

influence is positive or negative on the individual’s life (Esposti 220). In contrast to van

Dijck, Esposti identifies dataveillance as not just neutral data gathering for unspecified

purposes, but rather that the unspecified collection of data becomes a tool for behavioral

manipulation through analysis and application. However, regarding dataveillance used in

schools, analysis and application are not always needed to modify students behavior, as will

be shown in the analysis.

2.3 Students’ perceptions of surveillance

Many schools around the world utilise different methods of surveillance and dataveillance to

monitor their students. According to Andrew Hope, such surveillance systems include

fingerprint identification, palm vein scanners and iris recognition to identify students’

physical bodies and using them as both a form of debit card, but also as identification for

registration upon arrival to school, and for loaning books at the library (888-89). Radio-

frequency identification (RFID) is also used to some extent to monitor where the students are

located. Hope states that RFID microchips are “embedded in uniforms, backpacks and

identity cards in Japan, the United states and the United Kingdom” to enable school

administrations and parents to track students’ location (890). Furthermore, in some schools in

Melbourne, students swipe their RFID card upon arrival to school which sends an automatic

email to their parents notifying them that their child has arrived at school (Hope 890). The

most common form of surveillance in schools however is through CCTV, as cameras are used

to improve security globally (Hope 892; Nemorin 248). On the whole, different forms of

surveillance techniques are used around the world to monitor students’ locations and actions,

but not much has been written on the students’ own perceptions of being constantly

monitored. This creates an interesting opportunity to use literary texts to give the students an

opportunity to reflect upon cultural features of their own society in relation to surveillance,

which will be discussed further in section four. First, however, students’ perceptions of

surveillance must be identified. The interviews presented in the texts below will be juxtaposed

to the portrayal of surveillance in Nineteen Eighty-Four in section three.

       A recent Israeli article, “School Surveillance in Context: High School Students’

Perspectives on CCTV, Privacy, and Security” by Michael Birnhack and Lotem Perry-Hazan

examines high school students’ perception of school CCTV. The article shows that students’

conceptualization of school surveillance and the way students resolve the conflict between

their own privacy and security concerns “are embedded in their perceptions of their overall

schooling experience” (1324). The students’ statements of resistance to CCTV portray

feelings of mistrust and alienation, while the students who supported the school’s CCTV

monitoring reflected trust in their educators and school (1321). Some students regard the

CCTV as legitimate if they were used “when schools’ property is vandalized . . . or in cases of

a fight [among students]” to assist the police in their work, but not as a means of constant

supervision (Birnhack and Perry-Hazan 1321). Some students agree that security of school

property and students can be a justifiable cause for CCTV, but still remain sceptical whether

their own school installed them for this reason and were concerned that their own school used

the CCTV mainly for school discipline (Birnhack and Perry-Hazan 1322).

       In an Australian article, “Post-panoptic Pedagogies: The Changing Nature of School

Surveillance in the Digital Age,” author Selena Nemorin argues that the digital dimensions of

new modes of surveillance no longer focus solely on discipline and control. While panoptic

forms of surveillance can be present in schools, for example CCTV, the more immaterial

surveillance in form of e-learning and content management platforms becomes more and

more prevalent. Surveillance of collected data – dataveillance – “is becoming increasingly

foundational to the school as an institution of discipline and control and merits attention”

(249). According to Nemorin, hybrid modes of surveillance, a mix of panoptic and

rhizomatic, have gained momentum and are spreading rapidly in school environments,

monitoring both students and educators (251). Nemorin’s study shows that in a school

surveillance context, students also take part of the surveillance by monitoring and reporting

each other. The article focuses mostly on interviews with teachers and headmasters on three

different schools in Australia. However, some students are also quoted, and some parts of the

article focus on the students’ perception of the surveillance inflicted upon them.

       In a master’s thesis from 2019, Student Perspectives on School Surveillance – an

Explorative Study Using A Mobile Application Prototype, Swedish authors Ahmed Eleyan

and Anton Persson state that school surveillance is a hot topic in which a lot of ethically

questionable experimentation is taking place. Besides this master’s thesis I have not been able

to find quality resources that investigate how Swedish upper secondary students perceive

surveillance, as this topic is not heavily researched. Despite a lot of research on the benefits of

dataveillance in schools, most of it fails to consider student input, even though they are the

target users. The authors have a neutral view on surveillance and examine which ways mobile

surveillance applications can offer value from an upper secondary school students’

perspective, and how an understanding of this perspective can inform the design of mobile

surveillance applications intended to be used in schools. Twelve Swedish upper secondary

school students were interviewed, with varying response towards surveillance. The responses

correspond well with Selena Nemorin’s interviews with students, teachers, and headmasters in

Australia. The responses also correlate with the interviews conducted by Birnhack and Perry-

Hazan. This indicates that students’ concerns with surveillance is not isolated in some parts of

the world but is applicable to a Swedish context. Surveillance, whether CCTV or

dataveillance, is seen by students as a means of security, where the surveillance is interpreted

to create a safer environment (Birnhack and Perry-Hazan 1321; Eleyan and Persson 22;

Nemorin 243). By being under constant surveillance, norm-breaking behavior, such as acts of

violence and vandalization, can be punished by the school administration, which according to

many students, is a good thing. One Australian student states that “if a fight happened or

something and the teacher needed to see who did it or on the weekend like some burglar or

something” (Nemorin 244), CCTV would be necessary to find the culprit. This aspect,

however, does not fall in line with the intention of the panopticon, as the observed do not

change their behavior to monitor themselves and will consequently not be analysed and

compared to Nineteen Eighty-Four. As will be shown by the analysis, the panoptic

surveillance portrayed in Nineteen Eighty-Four corresponds well with the concerns shown by

upper secondary students from around the world, rather than with the sense of security, thus

making it a useful tool to examine the emotions connected to infringement of privacy and

modification of one’s own behavior as a result of feeling observed.

3 Juxtaposition of Nineteen Eighty-Four and upper secondary

    students’ perceptions of surveillance

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell creates a dystopian future in which the reader can

follow the inner thoughts and actions of Winston Smith. Winston is a middle-aged citizen of

Airstrip One, the region of Oceania which had previously been called England (Orwell 32).

Oceania is one of three Cold War influenced superpowers and consists of “the Americas, the

Atlantic islands including the British Isles, Australasia, and the southern portion of Africa”

(Orwell 185). Oceania is run by “the Party” and is under scrutiny by a totalitarian government

which enforces total control upon its citizens. In this society, privacy and individuality is

frowned upon to the extent that it simply no longer exists: “In principle a Party member had

no spare time, and was never alone, except in bed . . . to do anything that suggested solitude,

even to go for a walk by yourself, was always slightly dangerous” (Orwell 81-82). Being seen

outside of the area of your home or place of work is considered suspicious behavior and

enough to draw the attention of the Thought Police (Orwell 83). Every private space in

Oceania is monitored by two-way television screens, called telescreens. The inhabitants of

Oceania must assume that there may be hidden microphones everywhere they go, or that their

behavior is closely monitored by other Party members who may report them to the Thought

Police if they act in a way that does not follow the norm. Winston Smith describes it as:

       There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given

       moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any

       individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody

       all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to.

       You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that

       every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement

       scrutinized. (Orwell 3)

This description comes very early in the novel and can thus be regarded as a foundation upon

which the reader stands during the rest of the novel, together with an earlier introduction of

the Party slogan “Big Brother is watching you” (Orwell 1); which can be seen accompanied

by a picture of Big Brother on large posters all over London. Wherever any character moves,

they are always aware of where the closest telescreen is located; and if no telescreen is in

range, they must assume that there might be hidden microphones in the surrounding area. The

all-seeing surveillance is almost anticipating Foucault’s explanation of the Panopticon:

       Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce a state of conscious and

       permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange

       things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its

       action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual use unnecessary;

       that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a

       power relation independent of the person who uses it; in short, that the inmates should

       be caught up in a power situation of which they themselves are the bearer. (201)

In both these passages, the observed become their own means of oppression as the observed

are being controlled by surveillance even though they may not be under observation. The ones

under surveillance, even though they are not aware if they are being watched or not, act as if

they were. Thus, the effect of panopticism is successful. The watchtower in the Panopticon is

in Nineteen Eighty-Four represented by Big Brother. He is never seen in person but rather

presented through large posters and voices from the telescreens. The inhabitants of Oceania

can not be sure that he is a real person, or if he is just a method to keep the population under

control. Either way, he creates the effect of being everywhere, constantly watching them.

Orwell describes him as:

       Big Brother is infallible and all powerful. Every success, every achievement, every

       victory, every scientific discovery, all knowledge, all wisdom, all happiness, all virtue,

are held to issue directly from his leadership and inspiration. Nobody has ever seen

        Big Brother. He is a face on the hoardings, a voice on the telescreen . . . . Big Brother

        is the guise in which the Party chooses to exhibit itself to the world. His function is to

        act as a focusing point for love, fear, and reverence, emotions which are most easily

        felt towards an individual than toward an organization. (208)

As Big Brother’s identity is covered in a supernatural mist, the citizens of Oceania experience

a similar surveillance by an unknown entity as the prisoners of the Panopticon do. In the same

way as the guards in the watchtower in the Panopticon, Big Brother acts as an omnipresent

observer and thus affects the behavior of the observed.

        Similar conceptions can be seen in the interviews with upper secondary school

students both in Sweden, Israel, and in Australia. Regarding dataveillance through mobile

applications, a Swedish student states that “[i]f people know that they are under surveillance,

then they would guaranteed know that if they do something, they would get into trouble for it.

And then they wouldn’t do that” (Eleyan and Persson 23). Just like the inhabitants of Oceania,

the student identifies that awareness of surveillance makes the observed objects modify their

behavior. The constant surveillance is seen as an infringement on the students’ own privacy

and makes them uncomfortable, and the panoptic effect is portrayed. Many students are

quoted saying that they feel uncomfortable being under constant surveillance, whether it is

through CCTV or through collection of data and metadata. Mistrust against the intentions of

the surveillance is visible in all three examined texts. As one Israeli student states, “[t]hey

place cameras . . . for security, but, in fact, it’s just an excuse to spy . . . to see that we’re not

doing things they don’t like” (Birnhack and Perry-Hazan 1321). Another Israeli student stated


“[s]ometimes, when I’m at school alone after classes, doing homework . . . I’m not

        even sure whether there are cameras; but if there are . . . it’s a bit unpleasant. It’s as if

        someone is constantly watching me.” (Birnhack and Perry-Hazan 1323)

This can be compared to a Swedish student who also showed mistrust against surveillance

implementations: “It feels like they are spying on you, especially in older ages when you

should be allowed to do whatever” (Eleyan and Persson 19). In the Australian schools

examined by Nemorin, CCTV were installed in corridors, and sometimes in classrooms. One

Australian student noted that she did not believe that cameras were used in the classroom but

that “[t]here might be voice monitors or something . . . My maths teacher said it . . . but he

was probably making it up so that we didn’t do anything” (Nemorin 243). Nemorin further

states that cameras were not used in all classrooms of the schools she examined, but “the

threat of implementation of surveillance equipment was used to discipline and control

students” (243). The threat of being caught makes the students change their behavior when

they assume that they are being monitored, similar to what is discussed by Foucault (201),

thus recreating the effect of the panopticon by making the students monitor themselves.

       Various instances like this are portrayed by Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four. One

noticeable instance is portrayed through the interaction between Winston and his lover Julia.

Julia is stated to have had multiple forbidden lovers before meeting Winston (Orwell 125),

whereas Winston has followed Party doctrine by having a loveless marriage to a wife he has

not seen in years (Orwell 64). Julia’s experience in evading the Thought Police, the

telescreens, and snooping Party members, has made her an expert in what she calls “talking

by instalments” (Orwell 128). By talking in instalments, Winston and Julia can carry a

conversation by walking openly in the streets while making sure to not have eye contact, and

by turning silent when close to a telescreen or a Party member, only to pick up the

conversation midsentence, sometimes minutes later (Orwell 128). Winston and Julia’s subtle

rebellion against the Party also shows that there is an anger towards the Party and everything

it stands for. Winston’s love for Julia is largely based in her disregard of Party principles. This

is exemplified by her numerous former lovers, upon when Winston hears this, “[h]is heart

leapt. Scores of times she had done it: he wished it had been hundreds—thousands. Anything

that hinted at corruption always filled him with a wild hope” (Orwell 125). For Winston, any

act that goes against the Party doctrine is a rebellion, no matter how small. In a similar way to

Winston and Julia, some students chose to rebel against the surveillance, here portrayed by a

quote from an Israeli student:

       If we want to do something, we’ll do it somewhere . . . Cameras make it worse

       because we feel that [people] control or follow us. It’s like a baby that someone took

       his lollypop away. He still wants it . . . We want freedom . . . We’ll do it because of

       the cameras. It’s kind of a protest. (Birnhack and Perry-Hazan 1323)

Much like Winston’s rebellion portrayed in Nineteen Eighty-Four, some students will rebel

against their monitors simply because they are being monitored, as their anger against their

monitors is what drives the rebellion. However, rebellion cannot always take place in plain

sight, because of the fear of retribution if caught in action. Winston and Julia manage to find

privacy, either in the woods, hiding in plain sight by talking in instalments, but also in an

apartment without a telescreen which they secretly rent. They can only express themselves

freely when they are not supervised. Consequently, they break all social norms in privacy, as

a result of anger towards the fact that they are constantly supervised. This shows that the

effect of the panopticon only works when the object believe they are being monitored but

does not fully change the behavior of the object when they believe that they are by

themselves. The threat of implementation of surveillance equipment used to discipline and

control students noted by Nemorin (243) is comparably visible in Winston and Julia’s

interaction. However, it does not change their behavior once they feel some sense of privacy.

Similarly, an Israeli student states that:

        [t]here are some places in the school that are more public, and some that are more

        private and personal. So yes, outside, behave normally, and where you think no one

        sees you—do what you want. (Birnhack and Perry-Hazan 1323)

This quote further indicates that students change their behavior when they suspect that they

are being monitored, somewhat mirroring Foucault who states that:

        He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility

        for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he

        inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he

        becomes the principle of his own subjection. (202-03)

In this passage, Foucault cements the idea that the surveillance in the panopticon becomes

internalized, as the observed monitor their own behavior to suit what is expected of them.

This is further demonstrated by Orwell through a, by the Party imposed, punishable offence:

Facecrime. Winston describes it as:

        It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public

        place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A

        nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself—

        anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to

        hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous

        when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offence. (Orwell


Eleyan and Persson also note that being monitored makes the students consider their actions

more carefully, quoting a student stating that “[t]hey [students] would think a little bit more

before trying to do some things” (21), if they know that they are being monitored. This may

seem to be a drastic parallel to draw, but in its essence the fear of retribution is similar. Both

Winston and the students must behave at their best when they are in front of surveillance

equipment and internalize the expectation put upon them in fear of some disciplinary action.

However, as noted by both Winston and Julia’s interaction through talking by instalments,

and both the Israeli, Australian, and Swedish students, the self-regulation is only internalized

when the objects suspect that they are being monitored. As they do not suspect that they are

always monitored, the self-regulating effect of the panopticon fails to control the object at any

given time.

4 Nineteen Eighty-Four in the EFL Classroom

As previously stated, the Panopticon and George Orwell’s Big Brother have for a long time

dominated public discussion regarding surveillance. The subject of English in Swedish upper

secondary schools aims at helping students develop knowledge of the target language, but

also knowledge about the surrounding world so that the students can develop the ability,

desire, and confidence to use English in different situations (Natl. Ag. f. Ed. 1). The students

should be faced with a variety of learning situations in which they encounter a diversity of

written and oral representations of the English language through different media. To be able

to understand the content, the students need training and practice in vocabulary, grammar,

phonology, and basic syntax knowledge, as well as the ability to put these skills to use in

different contexts. Reading, reflecting upon, and discussing a literary text can aid the students

in their language development. In their article “Literature and Critical Literacy Pedagogy in

the EFL Classroom: Towards a Model of Teaching Critical Thinking Skills,” authors Jelena

Bobkina and Svetlana Stefanova argue that a teacher should be careful when choosing which

texts to work with in the EFL classroom to avoid teaching literature as a way of only

developing students’ language skills. To be truly beneficial for the students, literary texts

should be connected to the students’ own lives (678-79). An important question for teachers

to ask themselves when teaching English literature is what literary text to choose. The teacher

needs to justify their choice for themselves, for their students, and in some cases for their

colleagues and administration. What is the purpose of using this particular text? How can this

text help students develop their language skills?

       As shown by research on surveillance and its impact on the surveyed, technological

advancements in the field of surveillance have taken place without much consideration of its

impact on the observed, especially regarding surveillance systems used in school contexts.

There also seems to be a gap between Swedish students’ current knowledge and the

knowledge required to make an informed opinion as they have little to no experience

discussing the topic (Eleyan and Persson 25). The students themselves might not have

reflected upon this subject, as it has been a normalized aspect of young people’s lives (Shade

and Singh 9). However, the studies on students’ perception on surveillance seem to indicate

that they are aware of how it can affect whoever is being observed. This creates an

opportunity to use a literary text to reflect on their own living situation. As stated by Beach

and others:

       We want to help young people understand the social, political, and cultural contexts

       that shape their lives. We want to help them see that the literary texts we assign them

       to read are inscribed with issues of power and shaped by ideological influences as they

       are created and as they are read. (153)

Studying literary texts can provide the reader with a deeper understanding of oneself, but also

of the world around them. It might also lead to a greater understanding of different social

issues and cultural features, thus increasing tolerance and respect for others. Learning a

language through reading and discussing the material being read might therefore enrichen the

students understanding of their own lives. Further, Bobkina and Stefanova state that a

personal response to a fictional work urges the pupils to respond and interact with the text and

interact with other students to communicate their interpretation of the text (680). By focusing

on themes that are close to the students’ personal lives, in this instance the ambivalent

perceptions on surveillance with its pros and cons, Nineteen Eighty-Four can serve this

purpose, if handled well by the teacher. Bobkina and Stefanova also argue that it is expected

of pupils to develop skills that will help them to understand implied or hidden meaning, apply

what they have learnt to other aspects of their life, and separate facts from opinions (680). By

using Nineteen Eighty-Four in the EFL classroom and discussing how surveillance is

portrayed, and how the inhabitants of Oceania react to the surveillance, the students would be

given an outlet to reflect upon their own perceptions of surveillance, and how it affects them

in their daily life. According to Beach and others, interpretations and understanding of a text

must be linked to the students’ personal beliefs, attitudes, and their understanding of the world

(121), and as shown by the analysis, students seem to have a basic understanding of how

panoptic surveillance impacts the human psyche without having read Foucault. To create this

link, however, it would be useful for the teacher to check both what surveillance techniques

the students are aware of, and their attitudes towards them before introducing Nineteen

Eighty-Four to the EFL classroom. By organising the students’ reflections and providing them

with examples that they might not have thought about themselves, the teacher can provide a

scaffold for the students to work from. As indicated by the limited research on students’

perceptions of surveillance, the teacher can expect their students to have an ambivalent stance

on the pros and cons of surveillance. Surveillance, whether CCTV or dataveillance, is seen by

students as a means of security, where the surveillance is interpreted to create a safer

environment (Birnhack and Perry-Hazan 1321; Eleyan and Persson 22; Nemorin 243).

Simultaneously, the students may regard the same surveillance as an infringement of their

privacy. This can lead to interesting and beneficial classroom discussions as an introduction to

one of the main themes of Nineteen Eighty-Four. By providing the students with other

material regarding contemporary surveillance before and during the reading of Nineteen

Eighty-Four, the teacher can create more awareness about the topic and further make the

theme of surveillance portrayed in Nineteen Eighty-Four more relatable to the students. At the

same time, the students would be encouraged to reflect upon the society of which they take

part of. To further aid the students to reflect upon their own situation, the students would

benefit from taking notes in a personal journal during their reading. By complementing a

reading journal with questions focused on analysing why the plot turns out the way it does,

provided by the teacher, we encourage critical thinking (Harmer 108-09). By doing this, the

students’ reflections on the novel can create a basis for smaller oral discussions where the

students share their thoughts on surveillance. This exercise would require the students to

formulate and structure their own thoughts about the topic of surveillance both written and

orally. This would give the students opportunities to develop the ability to adapt their

language to different purposes, recipients, and situations, and to develop the ability to reflect

on living conditions, social issues, and cultural features of both their own and other societies

(Natl. Ag f. Ed. 2). The students might also, by some degree, obtain greater knowledge on the

topic and thus be more able to follow the discourse in news and politics, considering that both

the Panopticon and George Orwell’s “Big Brother” have for a long time dominated the public

discussion regarding surveillance.

5 Conclusion

The aim of this study has been to thematize upper secondary students’ perspectives on

surveillance and privacy and to compare these with the perceived reactions to panoptic

surveillance portrayed in Nineteen Eighty-Four. This has been done by juxtaposing these two

viewpoints with Foucault’s discussion on the impact of the architectural structure of

Bentham’s Panopticon. This thesis claims that even though the structure of surveillance is

vastly different today, which is a result of rapid technological developments in the field,

similar notions of concern are still upheld by upper secondary school students today as when

Nineteen Eighty-Four was first published in 1949. Consequently, this makes Nineteen Eighty-

Four a steadfast text to use in the EFL classroom to help students deal with these issues, at the

same time as it provides them with a greater understanding of contemporary discussions

regarding surveillance and privacy.

       Not much research has been done on students’ perception on surveillance, thus making

the base upon which this thesis can stand fairly limited. However, the research that has been

published all point in the same direction. Students from three different countries show similar

reactions to surveillance. Many see it as a means of security, where surveillance is interpreted

to create a safer environment. By being under constant surveillance, norm-braking behavior,

such as acts of vandalism or violence, can be punished by the administration, which according

to many students is a good thing. Simultaneously, the students may regard the same

surveillance as an infringement of their privacy. Overall, the research indicates that students

seem to understand the basic concept of panopticism, i.e., how constant surveillance shape the

behavior of the observed, as this paper has shown clear similarities between student’s

perception of surveillance and the panoptic surveillance portrayed in Nineteen Eighty-Four. It

also points to a gap between current knowledge and the knowledge required to form an

informed opinion, as the students do not seem to be used to discussing this subject. By giving

the students an opportunity to structure and reflect upon their thoughts regarding this subject

in the EFL classroom, the teacher might give them the tool needed to lessen the

aforementioned gap and help the students develop their ability to reflect on living conditions,

social issues, and cultural features of both their own and other societies.

       Subsequently, by using Nineteen Eighty-Four as reading material in the EFL

classroom, teachers can provide their students with an outlet to deal with their own concerns

regarding surveillance and privacy in a digitalized world. By taking notes in a personal

journal throughout the reading of Winston’s rebellion against Big Brother, the students would

be given the opportunity to structure and formulate their thoughts. These notes can later be

used as a basis for smaller oral discussions. A minor exercise like this would give the students

an opportunity to develop the ability to adapt their language to different purposes and

situation, while the extensive reading would benefit the students’ overall learning of the target


       For further research I would suggest more extensive studies on upper secondary

school students’ perception of surveillance and how these can be challenged by using

literature. With rapid growth in the field of surveillance and a vast digitalization of everyday

life, younger generations might become desensitized to the impact of surveillance on human

behavior, but simultaneously not fully aware of how monitored they might be. As literature

can be a way of reflection upon one’s own life and culture, the EFL classroom can be used as

a tool to better cope with one’s existence in a digitalized world.

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