Editorial: On the Cultural Dimensions of Surveillance

Digitalization and de-materialization of surveillance technologies have facilitated changes in cultural agency that are at once fundamental and yet seem easy to ignore. Surveillance pervades every-day experiences down to the most quotidian and subconscious practices as well as the very materiality of the affected bodies. As a growing performative force, these practices and the responses they elicit work towards an essential cultural restructuring that results in a plurality of surveillance cultures. This shift calls for a radical reconceptualization of surveillance and its motivations. […]

The Representation of Dataveillance in Visual Media

Subjectification and Spatialization of Digital Surveillance Practices


Surveillance as a practice of observation is connected to metaphors that stress optical aspects referring to photographic or filming techniques. For example, films that deal with surveillance often make statements about the quality of images obtained through surveillance, and thereby influence the perception of film itself as a visual medium. However, the current ubiquity of surveillance as a social-ordering process is mainly based on the architecture of technologies designed to allow for surveillance as a form of data collection, which is known as dataveillance. Our main focus here is to explore the representation of dataveillance in visual media despite the actual “de-visualization” of digital surveillance practices. We carve out an analytical framework that locates some of the rhetoric of dataveillance within visual media (film, documentary, computer games) by determining dominant cultural interpretations. In doing so, we investigate the extent to which digital surveillance is visually spatialized and subjectivized, and how these strategies vary in different manifestations.

The Order of Things and People

Vertical Non-State Surveillance


Socially produced security concerns underlie the proliferation of urban surveillance practices through informal policing. Neighborhood watch and neighborhood patrol initiatives have recently mushroomed in several countries in Europe, spurred by a culture of insecurity that has continuously and globally grown since the seventies. Such practices signal the intensification of struggles for social control and order in the urban space, but also the capillarization of surveillance, devolved from waning state institutions onto the citizenry. Neighborhood patrols police the urban landscape, blame suspect Others for spoiling it, and enforce a particular aesthetic order which, in turn, legitimizes social hierarchies along nation, race, gender, and class lines. Through an empirically informed analysis of the security practices enacted by a neighborhood patrol in the peripheries of Rome, I trace the genealogies and cultural tenets of what I call vertical non-state surveillance as a form of informal policing of subaltern Others in the urban space. I explore the ways in which this form of surveillance meets neo-liberal conceptions of citizenship, becoming productive of new subjectivities and socialities, and argue that such forms of surveillance need to be linked with the political economies and the materialities of the urban spaces in which they emerge.

The Securopolis

(Re)assembling Surveillance, Resilience, and Affect


This paper explores how modern urban life is being re-assembled into a ‘securopolis.’ The securopolis is a form of urban life in which humans enact a ‘watchfulness’ (i.e. surveillance) combined with a ‘readiness for the worse’ (i.e. resilience) which is embedded into the physical and affective (emotional) fabric of the urban. The securopolis is more than a neat model of a safe, secure and sustainable city; it is a powerful influence on the underlying habitus of urban space, culture and governance. To explore this phenomenon the interplay of surveillance and resilience with the perceived needs: to be safe, to improve security and to improve sustainability are unpacked. I argue that this reconfiguration of the urban results in a suite of emergent (and ongoing) challenges; shifting the balance underpinning our traditional concepts of democratic community and ‘publicness.’ These tensions are (re)configured differently to those so well described by recent research into urban gentrification, militarization and the reimagined boundaries of public/private space. In order to get to grips with them a different approach, with a rethinking of ‘affective governance’ is required.

Surveillance and Shame in Dave Eggers’s The Circle


Shame is a complex and controversial emotion, but there are commonly accepted notions of shame which revolve around questions regarding exposure, appearance and visibility. As Jonathan Finn notes, through digitalization and camera surveillance in public spaces, surveillance has become a “way of seeing, a way of being” (2012). Thus, the question of visibility — or invisibility — is as inherent to the concept of surveillance as it is to that of shame. Social media users tend to contribute to disempowering exhibition by sharing their personal information in the online public domain. In other words: today’s “Funopticon” (Lewis 2017) is all about self-exposure. Shame, on the other hand, is generally perceived as an affect that emerges from fear of exposure. But how sustainable is this notion of shame in light of contemporary digital ‘surveillance culture’ (Lyon 2017)? I will examine shame against the backdrop of digital surveillance in Dave Eggers’s The Circle (2013), while also drawing comparisons to our contemporary condition in the culture of surveillance.

Exploring Surveillance Culture

It seems to make sense — though it might be annoying — when you receive internet ads that seem to match your interests, just after you clicked on a site for household tools or exotic vacations. This is a commonplace, unremarkable online event in the early twenty-first century. But what about old-fashioned email? Can corporate surveillance track you there? Surely. Commercial emails contain a high density of third-party trackers. [1] […]

Why Should We Talk About Culture, When We Want to Understand ‘Surveillance’?


Why should we talk about culture, when we want to understand ‘surveillance’? The following is a brief sketch towards an answer to this question. It has two parts: first, it presents and discusses how the term ‘culture’ is used within Surveillance Studies, an emerging transdisciplinary field combining research from social and political sciences as well as cultural studies and the humanities, and highlights the works of Torin Monahan and David Lyon in particular. Second, it puts forward a set of arguments why any reflection on surveillance must not ignore the cultural perspective.

The Ubiquitous View

Surveillance, Imagination, and the Power of Being Seen


The _Essay discusses the relation between surveillance and imagination. It unfolds the argument that surveillance as a form of (political) oppression is necessarily centering on a decisionistic act of the individual who has to opt for deviant or conformist behavior under conditions of obvious social and political surveillance. Today, however, especially due to processes of an ongoing digitalization, surveillance is becoming a mode of self-expression, experiencing a shift towards its habituation and normalization within social reality. This development marks a clear difference from the classic habituation of surveillance as estranged, governmental practice. What seems to remain intact with regard to contemporary concepts of surveillance is the importance of the view and the meaning of surveillance as a politics of the image and the imaginary.

Covering Surveillance

The Visualization of Contemporary Surveillance on Scholarly Book Covers


This _Perspective analyzes a selection of covers of scholarly books from the field of surveillance studies. Reading these book covers on their own as paratextual text-image combinations, we seek to illuminate a seemingly marginal field of the contemporary representation of surveillance. Foregrounding the motifs of cameras, eyes, and surveilled bodies, we point out some of the complex ways in which subjectivity and in/visibility interact on book covers in the age of dataveillance.