Perspectives on Surveillance

Related to my earlier mention of the challenges of relying on Panoptic theory to talk about surveillance, Anders Albrechtslund has posted an informal taxonomy of “21 perspectives on surveillance“:

  1. The Big Brother perspective
    Surveillance is a scary way for the state to intrude on people’s privacy. Currently, we are on a slippery slope towards a surveillance society.
  2. The control perspective
    Surveillance is a way to practice control over individuals or a group of individuals. Thus, it is a tool to exercise power.
  3. The care perspective
    Surveillance is a way to provide care for individuals, e.g. when parents take care of their children.
  4. The ethical perspective
    Surveillance changes the power and knowledge relations between people and, thus, the space for ethical action is changed.
  5. The security perspective
    Surveillance is a way to secure individuals, groups or the society as a whole. It is a security tool in the hands of the individual, a group or the state.
  6. The preventive perspective
    Surveillance in the form of e.g. CCTV is a way for privates, business’ or the state to prevent crime or misbehavior in a certain place or space.
  7. The investigative perspective
    Surveillance is a tool for the police, other authorities and even privates to investigate crime and suspicions.
  8. The Panoptic perspective
    Surveillance is a disciplinary tool, created by Panoptic architecture, applicable to train workers, students, soldiers, and many others.
  9. The Foucauldian perspective
    Surveillance is the way of the disciplinary, prison-like society.
  10. The legal perspective
    Surveillance is a threat to the individual’s right to privacy.
  11. The sociological perspective
    Surveillance is a way to sort social groups, to include or exclude, to qualify or disqualify, and to discriminate between people based on profiles. In this way, a modern society is by definition a surveillance society.
  12. The play, games and leisure perspective
    Surveillance is a practice in playful interaction between individuals or groups, e.g. Monopoly Live and Can You See Me Know?
  13. The paranoid perspective
    Surveillance is everywhere and it is a hidden tool for an extensive conspiracy of agencies, governments, business’ and/or private individuals.
  14. The social perspective
    Surveillance is a practice by which people engage in social interaction and networking. By using social software, e.g. Blogger (writing about my life), Flickr (pictures of my life), Last.fm (music from my life), Plazes (the spaces and places of my life), people actively take part in their own surveillance.
  15. The spying perspective
    Surveillance is a tool for spying on people, groups, business’ or governments. By using technologies and/or human agents, surveillance is a way to obtain knowledge about e.g. political views, religious beliefs, business or government secrets, etc.
  16. The exhibitionist-voyeuristic perspective
    Surveillance is a way to display oneself for and/or (secretly) watch other people for (erotic) pleasure.
  17. The existential perspective
    Surveillance is a part of human existence, both as watching and being watched, and it is therefore a key concept in understanding human life.
  18. The artistic perspective
    Surveillance is a way to demonstrate issues of society, modernity, transparency, etc. in works of art such as installations (e.g. Nanobots) and happenings (e.g. Surveillance Camera Players).
  19. The aesthetic perspective
    Surveillance is a theme of suspense and fascination in literature, poetics, computer games, cinema, etc. Furthermore, surveillance is an issue in film theory involving the audience as watchers/voyeurs and the movie as spectacle.
  20. The objectivity perspective
    Surveillance is a way to monitor objects, e.g. nature, culture, things, technologies, animals, humans, etc.
  21. The subjectivity perspective
    Surveillance is a human situation of either watching others, e.g. as CCTV operator, and/or being watched, involving issues of emotions, psychology, etc.

It is a helpful list, revealing the various ways surveillance systems are conceived, used, and experienced. It would be a worthwhile project to formalize such a taxonomy, and see how it can be applied to new surveillance systems and scenarios (ie, “netaveillance“).

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