Global Panopticism: States, Corporations and the Governance Effects of Monitoring Regimes

49 Pages Posted: 7 Jan 2008 Last revised: 10 Apr 2008

See all articles by Larry Catá Backer

Larry Catá Backer

The Pennsylvania State University (University Park) – Penn State Law


Regulatory power has become fractured. Its assertion both by public and private bodies is well known. Less well recognized is that the expression of this regulatory power has been fracturing as well. No longer confined to positive regulation or judicial decision, the techniques for enforcing regulation are substituting for regulation itself. This paper examines surveillance as a mechanism through which power is asserted and regulation effected in a world of shared public/private governance. For this purpose, understanding the nature of surveillance as a technique of governance, and as a substitute for governance itself, is a key element for understanding political authority as it is developing. The paper focuses surveillance as a new form of lawmaking through which the old boundaries between the public and private, national and transnational, are not relevant. It explores the ways in which the construction of complex systems of conscious and permanent visibility affects the power relationships among states, economic entities and individuals. To understand the complexities and vectors of surveillance is to grasp the shape of converging public/private governance in this century. To that end, this paper first suggests an approach to the unbundling of the normative and methodological assumptions of surveillance. That approach can be usefully divided into four aspects, normative, informatics, control, and governance, each of which is developed in turn. The paper ends with an elaboration of the regulatory consequences of the manipulation of these aspects of surveillance. Drawing on theories of gouvernmentalité, the paper suggests the ways in which governance is increasingly elaborated through the techniques of its own power. The attention lavished on surveillance in its many forms evidences the ways in which law, in a sense, is now expressed through different forms.

Keywords: multinational corporations, surveillance, monitoring, disclosure, regulation, globalization, transnational law

JEL Classification: D80, K20, K42, M14

Suggested Citation

Backer, Larry Catá, Global Panopticism: States, Corporations and the Governance Effects of Monitoring Regimes. Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, Vol. 15, 2007, Available at SSRN:

Larry Catá Backer (Contact Author)

The Pennsylvania State University (University Park) – Penn State Law ( email )

Lewis Katz Building
University Park, PA 16802
United States

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