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The Culture of Surveillance

See also “Surveillance Culture: Engagement, Exposure and Ethics in Digital Modernity” The International Journal of Communication. 11, 2017.

Surveillance stories hit the headlines almost every day, especially regarding national security since 9/11. And when Edward Snowden leaked details of global surveillance led by the US National Security Agency we discovered that internet and phone companies were also involved.

But surveillance is not only something ‘out there’ that is ‘done to us’ – it is also something with which we all engage in everyday life. We go along with surveillance, believing that ‘we have nothing to hide.’ Or we try to protect our privacy or negotiate the terms under which others have access to our data. At the same time, we may participate in surveillance ourselves, to check on children, monitor other road users, or protect our property.  Many people keep tabs on others, including complete strangers, using social media. And on ourselves, by wearing fitbits or following how others respond to our online profiles. This is the culture of surveillance. We are scarcely conscious that watching has become a way of life.

This book explores the imaginaries and practices of everyday surveillance, at work, at play, in school, at home, in ‘public’ domains and ‘private’ ones. Its main focus is not high-tech, rationalized surveillance operations but our mundane experiences of surveillance, that are kaleidoscopically varied, often emotional, and that range from the casual and unthought to the focused and intentional. In doing so, we also see how the culture of surveillance may help to domesticate and naturalize surveillance of unwelcome kinds. Surveillance culture is not detached from the surveillance state, society and economy. It is informed, in part, by them. So the book also asks what kinds of surveillance imaginaries and practices might be fostered for the common good and for human flourishing?