Surveillance for Safe Living: Beyond the dystopian critique?

New Sciences of Protection Conference: Theme Panel 3 ‘Surveillance for Safe Living’ with Andrew Clement, Charles D Raab, Clive Norris, Lucas Introna and David Murakami Wood.

Members of the Surveillance Studies Network, an international network of researchers dedicated to tracing and analysing developments in surveillance technologies and practice, discussed the role of surveillance in contemporary designs for safe living. Charles D Raab opened the proceedings with a summary of the concept of ‘the safety state’ and a diagnosis of the state of safety. He argued that social practices and policy are today evaluated in terms of safety and security above all else, engendering pre-emptive and precautionary classifications and surveillance techniques. Clive Norris asked what it is about the contemporary culture of CCTV which sustains our faith in it, despite all the evidence pointing to the fact that it is almost wholly ineffectual in preventing or detecting crime. Lucas Introna highlighted the centrality of algorithms to contemporary surveillance practices such as facial recognition systems. He urged that if we are to understand surveillance as social sorting then further work needs to be done on the social production of algorithms, on how already existing categories for social sorting are written into the very programs used in surveillance systems. Finally David Murakami Wood pointed to the importance of understanding the different scales of surveillance and how these feed in to designs for safe living at the global, transnational, national, urban, individual and bodily levels. The panel discussed the problems of transparency and accountability in highly technologized surveillance systems. Interestingly the discussion moved on to the problem of how to present critical dialogues on surveillance practices without generating fear. To maintain its coherence the critique of surveillance must avoid contributing to the accumulation of fear, precisely because fear is the source of justifications and legitimisations for the intensification of surveillance. This is a particularly acute problem since much critique of surveillance struggles to escape the form of a dystopian warning.

Thank you to Joseph Rigby who created this fabulous summary

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