Panoptical Time

Panoptical time is the idea that one can see across all of time from where one is. I find very interesting the idea that a place can be located in a certain chronological time but also at a very different perceived time concurrently. This concept is something I have always known, without actually knowing that there was terminology for it. Beginning in elementary school (and even before) we took field trips to places that were “preserved” and kept as they were during a specific time period, such as Civil War battlefields and Colonel Sanders plantation. These places are meant to be frozen in time to show us what life may have been like. Many other places, however, are unintentionally “frozen in time” and are seen in a very different light. The idea that every location in the world is on the same level regarding technology, ideals, and ways of life couldn’t be farther from the truth, even within a specific location such as the southeastern United States. It would make sense to believe that since the United States is one of the most advanced first-world countries, everyone residing in the US is living within a certain standard. The best example of modern day panoptical time is the area of southern Appalachia. While the surrounding area is as advanced as the rest of the country seems to be, Appalachia in particular is viewed as backwards and as if it is from a previous chronological year. The technology and views of the inhabitants is not what would be considered “modern”. The education level is lower than the rest of the country, and thus the area can be seen as needing to be saved and improved.

This is one of the very ideas that justified the process of colonialism by Europeans. If an area of new land was found, the people who inhabited that land were almost always seen in a backwards, primitive light, giving the colonizers validation for conquering the natives. I can only imagine how it would have felt to come from what was at the time a very advanced society to a land where the people appeared animalistic and barbaric and feeling the urge to “bring them up to speed”. The closest I can relate this concept to today is the work being done in Africa with the thought that what the natives are currently doing is crude, archaic, and needs to be reformed. We can view the rest of the world as being at one point in time while simultaneously viewing Africa in another, though the entire world is at the same point in chronological time.


Maggie Van Antwerp

WMST 2020-001


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