How strange things do run! The vicissitudes of life.

Once I wrote an article about the university changing more and more into a Panopticon, a teaching and research machine in which both students and staff were increasingly and intensively measured and controlled.

We are writing 1983. The piece was published in Universiteit en Hogeschool [‘College and University’] Volume 29, No. 5 and it was entitled: Two-Phase Structure as University Panopticon: The Birth of the Normal Student, the Normal Teacher and the Normal Researcher. Those ‘two phases’, similar to the American bachelor and masters, were put into law at the time.

A few years later my thesis on Supervision and Task was published. In this I discussed the design for a Panopticon Prison invented by the Brit Jeremy Bentham.

This plan had a diabolical quality. A circular prison building contained, along its elevations of walls of surrounding floors, cells in which during the daytime window light highlighted all that the prisoner did inside his cubicle. Inside the dark hallway was an observation tower in which guards, hidden behind blinds, could watch the prisoners’ detailed behaviour, while at night spotlights from the inside could beam into the cells that were simply ‘walled’ with bars.

Nothing escaped the guards’ attention.




Diabolical this building is, because there is basically no need for real guards at all. The prisoner does not know whether or not the security guards are sitting in their inner tower and observe him. So they are forced to pretend that they are there. The inmates are supervising themselves!

In short, the opposite of what should be a university of free thinking people.

Now De Haarlemmer of 19 January publishes a picture of the inside of our Dome Prison – one of the few panoptical prisons ever to be build in the world. The central tower has since been removed. But the fact that three of these buildings were built in the Netherlands indicates how the efficient and thrifty Dutchman saw bread in a monitoring his prisoners without costly guards…




And now I read that this old jail is going to be transformed into an annex for a ‘University College’! Yes, even in the Netherlands we name it in English – in postmodernity one does not count in the world if things are not called by their English name, in the universal Esperanto of today, its lingua franca… Haarlem wants to be a ‘University Town’.

Sadly enough, by now The University of Amsterdam has stopped the negotiations and does not want to be a partner any more. But this does not spoil our fun – us Haarlemmers, we push on.

But such things you do not invent! My life reveals itself to be a delicate web of connections, spun by a Fiendish Magister, a web which in 1983 made me look so far ahead that at the time I could not have imagined all this myself.

Sierksma,  Haarlem 19/01/17


Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

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