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date: 08 March 2021

Surveillance and Public Spacefree

  • Rachel HallRachel HallDepartment of Communication and Rhetorical Studies, Syracuse University


Current communications research takes up the political and ethical problems posed by new surveillance technologies in public space, ranging from biometric technologies adopted by state security apparatuses to self- and peer-monitoring applications for the consumer market. In addition to studies that examine new surveillance technologies, scholars are tracking intensive and extensive expansions of surveillance in the name of risk management. Much of the scholarship produced in the last 15 years looks at how the establishment and expansion of the Department of Homeland Security within the United States and its international counterparts have dramatically altered security, military, and legal practices and cultures. Within this context what were once science fiction dystopias have become funded research and development projects and institutionalized practices aimed at remote data collection and processing, including facial recognition technology and a variety of remote sensing devices. Private-public partnerships between companies like Google and Homeland Security fusion centers have made it possible to use GPS technology to network data that promises to help manage a variety of natural and man-made disasters.


Current communications research takes up the political and ethical problems posed by new surveillance technologies in public space, ranging from biometric technologies adopted by state security apparatuses to self- and peer-monitoring applications for the consumer market. In addition to studies that examine new surveillance technologies, scholars are tracking intensive and extensive expansions of surveillance in the name of risk management. Much of the scholarship produced in the last 15 years looks at how the establishment and expansion of the Department of Homeland Security within the United States and its international counterparts have dramatically altered security, military, and legal practices and cultures. Within this context what were once science fiction dystopias have become funded research and development projects and institutionalized practices aimed at remote data collection and processing, including facial recognition technology and a variety of remote sensing devices. Private-public partnerships between companies like Google and Homeland Security fusion centers have made it possible to use GPS technology to network data that promises to help manage a variety of natural and man-made disasters (Monahan, 2010).

The discipline of communication studies is capable of addressing the full spectrum of surveillance in public space, from acts of direct surveillance (e.g., neighborhood watch programs) to the mass surveillance of populations enabled by networked technologies (e.g., searchable databases of cell phone records). Researchers tend to agree that hard and fast distinctions between live and mediated contexts of surveillance (or “dataveillance” and “direct surveillance,” to use Anthony Giddens’s terminology) are becoming more difficult to maintain in a historical moment in which some people simultaneously inhabit, act, work, shop, socialize, and move through physical and virtual environments in a manner that not only blurs those boundaries but makes it difficult to know in any given moment, which realm has priority.

Surveillance technologies are often also communication technologies, so scholars of media studies are well equipped to address some aspects of surveillance (e.g., satellites and global positioning systems), while performance studies scholars are adept at analyzing the ritual aspects of surveillance (permanently installed and impromptu checkpoints). Cultural studies scholars work at the intersection of media representations and public discourses about risk and security, on the one hand, and cultural and institutional uses of surveillance technologies, human monitors, and policing, on the other. And scholars of rhetoric analyze public cultures of surveillance. In practice, communication scholars often draw upon a mix of the aforementioned approaches.

Communication scholars currently study a wide range of social and cultural contexts of surveillance and public culture. Some of these include reality television, interactivity, popular cultures of savvy skepticism, airports and public transportation hubs, schools, museums, prisons, neighborhoods, housing projects, homeless populations, and gated communities. Scholars examine a wide range of technologies with surveillance functions: algorithmic software, biometric technologies, medical imaging technologies, CCTV, wearable technology, drones, personal computing, digital imaging, reality television, satellites and global positioning systems, social media platforms, cell phones and cameras, and software applications. Also under examination by communication scholars is the labor of conducting surveillance and being subject to surveillance or what Mark Andrejevic calls “the work of being watched.” Scholars have studied the labor of surveillance in contexts as diverse as airport security, the hospitality industry, schools, intelligence processing centers, hospitals, homeland security fusion centers, reality television, social networking, and interactive culture and commerce.

Surveillance Infrastructures and Public Space


Contemporary studies of surveillance and public space range from the saturation of public space by CCTV cameras to the proliferation of satellites and the mapping and geocaching of images of the world by Google Earth. These technologies make up what might be called the surveillance infrastructures of cities and increasingly suburban and even rural communities. Surveillance is no longer just about direct observation (watching or being watched) but also about how we locate ourselves and others in the world and conduct ourselves in public spaces. Satellite technology, in particular, stretches the limits of human comprehension. Communication scholars are asking how we might bring satellites “down to earth,” in a manner that would render the technology more legible and enable us to describe and analyze how satellites matter in our global culture (Parks & Schwoch, 2012). Other communication scholars are exploring whether and how these technologies have produced fundamentally new forms of monitoring, spectatorship, and subjectivity. The capacity of satellite technology to visualize public and private spaces as monitored, mapped, and uploadable to Google Earth has altered our relationship to the planet, envisioned as a whole, and in terms of each person’s little corner of the earth. Arguably, then, satellite technology has inflected our understanding and practice of global citizenship (Mirzoeff, 2015).


Approximately 25 million CCTV cameras are in operation worldwide. The United Kingdom has the greatest saturation of CCTV cameras with roughly one camera installed for every 14 people. Communication scholars ask how the continuous recording of public spaces has changed our relationship to both space and time, research the discriminatory placement and use of CCTV cameras, analyze public discourse regarding its function as a mechanism of crime prevention and its use in investigations of crimes committed. Some have used theatrical concepts to introduce the possibility of agency into surveillance space and challenge the ideology of crime that supports the unthinking implementation of more and more surveillance cameras in public spaces (i.e., “if you’ve done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to hide”) (McGrath, 2004).

In many cities, a considerable number of the installed CCTV cameras are inoperable. For example, a majority of the 250 government-owned surveillance cameras installed in New Orleans do not function properly. Given this, New Orleans has moved to outsource surveillance to the city’s residents. Civilian-owned and-installed cameras are linked to a database called SafeCams8, which covers the entire 8th District. Neighbors watch neighbors via these privately owned and installed cameras that blanket the city. New Orleans detectives cannot access footage in real time but on a Google map they can see the location of all the cameras that are not public. The map also includes contact information for the owners of the cameras. The database includes more than 1,200 cameras (see

Facial Recognition Software

Many CCTV cameras worldwide are now equipped with facial recognition software. Remote sensing technologies capable of measuring physiological markers of stress in mobile citizens are in various stages of development. Police are using facial recognition software to arrest suspects ( FindFace, a new facial recognition app developed by a Russian firm has consumer and governmental applications. It promises consumers the ability to match photos snapped on the street with camera phones to profiles on social networking sites. The company is also negotiating a deal with the Moscow city government to blanket the city’s 150,000 CCTV cameras with the facial recognition software and claims the software can identify strangers with 70% reliability (Walker, 2016).

Two artists, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, are using facial recognition software and 3D surveillance cameras to produce a new type of portraiture. Their work provides a critical response to the use of mounted 3D surveillance cameras to photograph people passing through transit stations or transportation hubs without their knowledge or consent. Once taken, these images can then be entered into a searchable database. In a reenactment of August Sander’s People of the Twentieth Century (1927), the artists produce composite portraits of social types. In “the revolutionary,” they picture a member of Pussy Riot—a radical feminist political movement in Russia, which argues that the Balaclava are the best defense against surveillance of political protestors, calling on people to knit and wear them. Indeed, the use of facial recognition software in conjunction with surveillance cameras in public spaces means that if a person is in attendance at a political protest, images from the protest could be searched against a database and that person could be identified and arrested after the fact, which reduces the protection provided by a crowd and the relative anonymity it affords. Torin Monahan questions aesthetic strategies of resistance, which advocate resistance at the level of the individual or small group, arguing that strategies such as masking to fool facial recognition technologies fail to challenge surveillance on a structural level (Monahan, 2015).

Camera Phones

US federal police seized on the saturation of public space by camera phones, when they called for the public’s help in finding the bombers of the Boston City Marathon in 2013, crowdsourcing images of the marathon taken by those in attendance. Unable to share data in only one direction, the FBI inadvertently unleashed the sadism of the digital lynch mobs that formed in the aftermath of the bombing. The openness of sites like Reddit made it impossible for the FBI to prevent overzealous laptop detectives from wrongly accusing a number of individuals before the FBI officially released crowdsourced images of its suspects.


Drones are the most recent layer of surveillance in open-air spaces. Abroad, the drone has become the preferred technology of the war on terror. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimated drones had killed between 2,497–3,999 people, as many as 423–965 of them civilians, and of those 172–207 of them children (see In the United States, drones are used for commercial and noncommercial purposes, including tracking wildlife, tabloid photojournalism, and package delivery. Amazon Prime Air is a future service that promises to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less. Political organizers are using drones marketed to consumers as a check on police brutality at major political protests.

Artist Tomas Van Houtryve is using drone technology to make videos and still images that attempt to give Americans a feel for life under surveillance by drones. To produce his series, Blue Sky Days, the artist mounted his camera to a quadcopter that he purchased online and then flew it over open-air events like weddings, funerals, group exercises, and group prayer. These are all contexts in which civilians have been killed by US drones abroad (Brook, 2014).

Surveillance and Mobility in Public Space

Policing People of Color

Critical surveillance studies scholarship argues that the question of who has a right to occupy and move through public spaces is political and opens onto the longer history of discriminatory practices of surveillance. Surveillance in public space predates modern policing. Southern whites relied heavily on the surveillance function of print culture to control the slave population. Slave advertisements drew their power from an elaborate code of violent punishment and interpellated poor whites to help collect, capture, and guard the property of wealthy planters. In the United States, it can be traced back to slave passes or the requirement that slaves and freed blacks have documentation verifying their permission (if not their right) to be in public space (Hall, 2009). Historically, unaccompanied women or those without chaperones who dared to occupy and move through public spaces alone were assumed to be prostitutes or women of compromised morals. Those persons perceived as “foreigners” have been subject to periodic monitoring, detention, or questioning at various points in US history. More recently, scholars have begun to take on the issue of the suspicion surrounding gender nonconformists in public spaces, particularly at airport security checkpoints (Magnet & Rodgers, 2011).

The discriminatory and often violent practice of policing blackness is urgent in a context of staggering rates of police brutality and murder against young people of color in the United States (Browne, 2015). Black communities have been terrorized by discriminatory police violence and again by a criminal justice system that fails to hold the perpetrators of police murder and violence accountable for their crimes. Public outrage over the continuation of this history of racialized violence and institutional abandonment has fueled the #BlackLivesMatter campaign for racial justice in public space, police practice, and the American criminal justice system. Recent work in surveillance studies argues persuasively that despite the celebratory claim that we live in a postracist society, there is nothing colorblind about contemporary police practices within the United States. Critical histories of surveillance emphasize the extent to which surveillance in public space is inseparable from racialized practices of looking and histories of racial violence.

Amateur Behavior Detection

Alongside the proliferation of new high-tech surveillance apparatuses for monitoring people’s movement through public spaces, we are witnessing the resurgence of older practices of surveillance, including pseudoscientific practices of surveillance-like behavior detection, the neoliberal shift to citizen preparedness as a mode of self-governance (reminiscent of the frontier politics of the pioneer or homesteader), and lateral detection via live and mediated spying on one’s peers and family members via keystroke surveillance software, cell phone and text records, and search engine histories. Together, these developments have put a chill on behavior in both public and private spaces. Photographer Arne Svenson recently came under fire for his project, “The Neighbors,” in which he collapsed the division between public and private spaces. Using a telephoto lens appropriate for bird watching, Svenson captured residents engaged in various activities in the interiors of their Manhattan apartments from the vantage point of his building across the street (see

Citizens have been invited and in some cases coerced to become part of the surveillance infrastructures of airports and cities, as, for example, in the Transportation Security Administration’s admonition to report unattended baggage and suspicious behavior to the authorities, or New York City Mass Transit’s “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign. In its promotional materials the program represents the wearing of a hooded sweatshirt as tantamount to suspicious behavior (Reeves, 2012). Scholars of affect theory and surveillance have taken up the Terror Alert System (Massumi, 2005), the affective labor of hotel workers trained in Homeland Security Techniques of behavior detection (Ritchie, 2015), and the TSA’s embrace of behavior detection as an additional and covert layer of security in US airports (Hall, 2015).

In addition to behavior detection programs overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, one could also point to recent laws in New York (Stop and Frisk), Florida (Stand Your Ground). and Arizona (Senate Bill 1070, a.k.a. Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act), which authorize police and deputize ordinary citizens to stop, question, search, and at the extreme, shoot-to-kill other citizens who appear suspicious. The ACLU and other organizations have been quick to point out how such laws create an environment ripe for practices of racial profiling (McCann, 2014). Neoliberal geographies may well be a contributing factor in lay performances of behavior detection. Jonathan Massey and Meredith TenHoor point out that George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin in a gated community in Sanford, Florida. They argue that Martin’s death cannot be blamed solely on architectural form (e.g., the gated community) but must be understood as the result of intersecting spatial, legal, and social operations (see

Recent laws have attempted to make public protests illegal. In the context of repeated massive strikes against tuition hikes by students living in Montreal, the Quebec government passed Bill 78 (May 18, 2012), a law designed to limit citizens’ rights to congregate and protest in public spaces. Montrealers responded by engaging in smaller, neighborhood-scale protests or manifestation casseroles each and every night (Rentschler, 2012). Other strategies used to limit the efficacy of political protests include the use of Taser guns by police to subdue rabble-rousers at political events and the creation of fenced in, protest zones like the one set up for protestors attending recent Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

Post–Cold War Checkpoints

The primary function of post–Cold War checkpoints is to monitor and control the mobility of populations that have been flagged as threatening or otherwise suspicious by the security experts and vigilant citizens of paranoid empires or occupying forces. PostCold War checkpoints are not designed to police the borders of well-defined geographic and political territories; rather, they exist to make particular mobile populations submit to rituals of surveillance in the name of preventing future acts of violence or crimes against property. These deterritorialized checkpoints are networked liminal zones of risk management within territories, which serve a preemptive legal framework embraced by the United States and other paranoid empires in the name of preventing terrorism and crime within the territory and, in some cases, immigration into the territory. Consider the “flying” or impromptu checkpoints set up between permanent checkpoints operative along the Israeli-Palestinian border, which materialize wherever the Palestinian attempts to move within the occupied territories (Azoulay, 2008). The Palestinians monitored and frequently abused at these checkpoints are noncitizens living under a system of apartheid established and enforced by the state of Israel. As noncitizens they have no recourse to justice through a system that refuses to recognize them as anything other than permanent residents and potential terrorists.

Flying checkpoints can be found in the United States as well as in the Occupied Territories. The Transportation Security Administration now has Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response Squads (VIPRS), which perform random security sweeps to prevent terrorist attacks at transportation hubs and entertainment venues across the United States (Hall, 2015). Other important examples of flying checkpoints within the United States include Stop-and-Frisk policies in New York City and Arizona Senate Bill 1070 (also known as the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act). Like the flying checkpoints operative within the occupied territories, these new security policies promote highly flexible and impromptu checkpoints, which rise up wherever the categorically excluded, unwanted, or otherwise “unworthy” person attempts to move. The voluntary checkpoints established by the Minute Men along the US-Mexican border and the recent upholding of the Stand Your Ground Law in the Trayvon Martin case in Florida are other important examples of post–Cold War security cultures.

Policing Homeless People

Human monitors are paid to collect, record, and collate information about homeless persons, many of whom are also part of a cycle of arrest, detainment, release, homelessness, arrest, release, detainment, and so forth. (Mungin, 2016). In some cases, persons facing criminal charges are kept out of public spaces by electronic monitoring of their bodies in space. This can take the form of continuous monitoring, where an ankle or wrist bracelet sends signals relayed by telephone to the parole officer’s office during the hours that the person is required to remain at home. Or, electronic monitoring is intermittent. In this case a computer program calls the offender periodically during the hours set by the house arrest agreement and the parolee must use his or her bracelet to verify their presence in the home. Proposals have been floated by members of the security industry or political officials to monitor guest workers and immigrants in the United States by implanting them with RFID chips. Most recently, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie argued that immigrants should be tracked like FedEx packages during their stay in the United States. Thus far, these proposals have not been implemented (Whoriskey, 2015).

Citizens Monitor the Police

Recent historical events such as the Occupy Movement and #BlackLivesMatter Campaign have underscored the politics of surveillance and public space. Nicholas Mirzoeff argues that the Occupy Movement can be understood as a refusal to accept what Jacques Ranciere has called the police version of history: move along please, there is nothing to see here (Mirzoeff, 2013). The use of police to forcibly remove protestors who insisted that there was something to see on Wall Street and in other globally networked protests by like-minded citizens, participates in a well-established history of using public and private police to conduct surveillance on workers and to spy on and break up the public assembly of organizers and activists, which dates back at least as far as the strike-breaking work of the Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency in the late 19th century. J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI was notorious for such work (Stabile, 2001).

Consumer visual recording technologies such as the home video camera and, more recently, video-ready cell phone cameras have provided citizens with a means of monitoring police practices within their neighborhoods. George Holliday’s home video recording of members of the Los Angeles Police Department brutally beating Rodney King is an early high-profile example of a citizen using consumer visual recording technology to perform the role of watchdog. More recent examples of citizens using cell phone cameras to record police violence are too numerous to catalog. In November 2015, the ACLU released a software application, “Mobile Justice,” which is designed to aid citizens in recording and reporting police violence and misconduct. The application is networked to a database maintained by the ACLU. Videos shot using the app are automatically uploaded to the database. Recent scholarship in communication studies has also taken up the issue of the social scientific construction of the bystander as a problematic witness of violent crimes and, potentially, police misconduct (Rentschler, 2011).

Wearable police cameras are quickly becoming part of the gear standardly issued to American police officers. Proponents claim that the technology promises to act as a check on police brutality and misconduct, but experts debate the effectiveness of the technology. In practice, the wearable surveillance cam can actually augment the beat cop’s embodiment of the state and, in particular, his or her function as an armed monitor of the local community.

Citizens Monitor One Another

Some mobile phone applications are marketed to consumers based on the promise of avoiding encounters with undesirable persons in public spaces. For example, Sex Offender Tracker is an app for Android and iPhone, developed by Been Verified. Users can use the app to scan their immediate vicinity for the presence of registered sex offenders, who show up as red dots on the screen image of the environment through which the user moves. The National Sex Offender Public Registry provides the public with a search tool to identify where registered sex offenders live, work, and attend school. Kids Live Safe provides an easy-to-use Megan’s Law database of sex offenders and child predators.

In December 2010, a Cairo-based firm launched an interactive online mapping interface designed to report and map incidents of sexual harassment. HarassMap provides a means of anonymously reporting and mapping sexual harassment in real time (Grove, 2015).

The Promise and Peril of Interactivity

As control via surveillance of public spaces has intensified, some have argued that the Internet provides alternative public venues for socialization, debate, political organizing, and activism. But early idealism has proven naïve, given developments in data collection and data mining—in many cases without the informed consent of consumers or citizens. What is more, there have been many cases of denying political activists access to social networking sites or communication via the Internet by repressive regimes (Youmans & York, 2012). It is generally accepted among surveillance scholars that virtual spaces count among the public spaces in which our behavior, actions, and interactions are surveilled. This may be less a matter of monitoring people and more about data capture, storage, and mining, but scholars tend to agree that it does not make a lot of sense to draw a hard and fast line between so-called real and so-called virtual public spaces when we exist and act, and leave traces of ourselves simultaneously in both realms. Mark Andrejevic’s concept of the digital enclosure offers a particularly astute account of our present state of affairs (Andrejevic, 2007). In the context of the Snowden/PRISM scandal, citizens are expressing concern about the extent and reach of domestic spying, covert data collection, and data mining within and beyond the United States. David Lyon has long been concerned about the need for greater transparency in the practice of surveillance by governments and corporations (Lyon, 2007).

Popular Cultures of Surveillance

Within the genres of reality television and securitainment more broadly, public and private spaces are turned inside-out for monitoring and inspection in the genre of reality television and online practices of webcasting and networking via social media. Within the genre of securitainment, people practice savvy skepticism, which enables them to read others’ intentions without themselves being exposed. Scholarship in this arena has emphasized the promise of interactivity versus the reality of providing data to marketers and governments—the work of being watched as Mark Andrejevic called it (Andrejevic, 2004). Rachel Dubrofsky’s work interrogates the morality of the presentation of self cultivated by reality TV, which values authenticity or self-sameness above all else, but as her work demonstrates, authenticity is a category of moral value and fortitude is not a matter of equal opportunity—the ways in which authenticity is currently defined and evaluated reinforce norms of whiteness and femininity (Dubrofsky, 2007). Others are conducting critical analyses of popular cultures of surveillance, including reality television, gaming, social media platforms, online consumer and advertising practices, and algorithmic culture.

Discussion of Literature

The intellectual genealogy of surveillance and public space within communication studies can be traced back to two influential publications of the 1970s. While Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish (1977) is commonly recognized as having generated the field of surveillance studies, the enduring influence of Stuart Hall’s coauthored Policing the Crisis on critical surveillance studies is less widely acknowledged. Scholars of surveillance and public space with a critical bent pay close attention to the articulations between racist ideologies and practices of surveillance. This approach reflects the ongoing resonance of Stuart Hall’s critical analysis of the cultural production of a racialized moral panic about crime in Thatcherite Britain via the importation of the mediated threat of “mugging” from the United States.

Stuart Hall’s influence on affect theory can be seen in the work of Sara Ahmed, especially her book, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, in which she develops a theoretical framework capable of addressing how historical articulations of racist ideologies and practices are felt in live, embodied encounters with difference (Ahmed, 2014). Ahmed’s work is groundbreaking for its critical analysis of surveillance as motivated by ideologically and emotionally loaded concepts of heimlich and unheimlich, familial and stranger relationality, love and fear. In this way, she challenges a long-standing and heretofore underexamined organizing logic of surveillance studies: the division of space into “public” and “private” (or open and enclosed arenas). This division has structured the production of knowledge in surveillance studies, although it is beginning to give way under the pressure of feminist and queer interventions into the field.

Rachel Hall argues that in the social and psychic geography of American culture, the wanted poster occupies the border that separates home from the external dangers that threaten its sanctity. As such, the wanted poster is not only an expression of the law but also a gendered cultural form for the ritual reenactment of property relations along the borders of what is thought of as public versus private space (Hall, 2009). The wanted poster performs the ideological work of selling the necessity of the use of police force to the public. As these histories suggest, the institutionalization of modern police forces were reliant upon ideologically loaded understandings of public space as dangerous and, therefore, in need of perpetual monitoring by armed police and private spaces as the property that underwrites those citizens’ right to police protection from the less affluent.

The division between so-called public and private space was there in Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish (1977), which shaped much of the early work on surveillance and public space. A rough equation of public space with openness, publicity, and spectacle, on the one hand, and discipline with enclosure, secrecy, and obscurity, on the other, lends elegance to Foucault’s historical narrative that punishment became “the most hidden part of the penal process” in the 20th century (Foucault, 1977, p. 9). “At the beginning of the nineteenth century,” he writes, “the great spectacle of physical punishment disappeared; the tortured body was avoided; the theatrical representation of pain was excluded from punishment. The age of sobriety in punishment had begun” (Foucault, 1977, p. 14). Foucault theorizes this historical development as a shift from one visual culture of crime and punishment to another, from the age of spectacle to the age of surveillance (Foucault, 1977, p. 202). He uses Jeremy Bentham’s prison design for the Panopticon as a model of modern disciplinary power reduced to its ideal form. The Panopticon, he argues, is an active architecture, capable of realizing surveillance and resultant self-discipline (Foucault, 1977, p. 202). Specifically, Bentham’s structure arranges prisoners in a ring around a central prison tower, encouraging each man to discipline himself because at any given moment the guard might be watching him. If public spectacles of torture promoted social order by showing members of the crowd the excruciating pain and suffering that would befall them should they defy the powers that be, then modern mechanisms of surveillance encourage individuals to imagine that they might be under observation by authorities and, therefore, to discipline themselves.

Tony Bennett critiques Foucault’s pronouncement of the end of displays of power as an “incautious generalization.” He writes, “For it by no means follows from the fact that punishment had ceased to be a spectacle that the function of displaying power—of making it visible for all to see—had itself fallen into abeyance” (Bennett, 1995, p. 65). He argues that the exhibitionary complex developed over roughly the same period of time as that of the Panopticon; however, the technology of vision it installed worked in the reverse direction. As punishment was moving behind closed doors, the exhibitionary complex was involved in the transfer of objects previously closed up in private and semiprivate domains into more public arenas (Bennett, 1995, pp. 60–61). Along similar lines, Donovan argues that the relationship between spectacle and surveillance is no longer best understood in terms of competing modes of visual culture. Rather, she argues, spectacle and surveillance ought to be understood in terms of their “mutual dependence” (Donovan, 1998, p. 119).

In the 1990s and early 2000s, much of the research on surveillance and public space focused on the introduction and eventual saturation of monitoring and recording technologies in public spaces, especially CCTV cameras. The work that best articulates the connection of work on CCTV back to Foucault’s theory of disciplinary power is William Bogard’s argument in The Simulation of Surveillance: Hypercontrol in Telematic Societies that the mere presence, in public space, of objects that resemble visual recording technologies is enough to trigger self-discipline in persons moving through those spaces, regardless of whether the technology is operable (Bogard, 1996). More recent scholarship focuses on how the installation of facial recognition and other biometric technologies in and the movement of drones through public spaces are changing the character of those spaces. Bogard argues that our ability to simulate spaces of control will eventually render Panopticism unnecessary. His argument is based on a historical narrative of the merging of the virtual and the real enabled by digital technologies.

Feminist and queer scholars have been critical of the binary private versus public space, arguing that private space is a structuring absence of surveillance studies. The feminist critique of privacy insists that defending the privacy rights of individuals is an insufficient and problematic goal of surveillance studies as a field, given that welfare recipients, people living in poverty, and queers have never been entitled to privacy, as well the fact that “privacy” has not always kept women safer (i.e., violence against women and children often occurs in the “private” space of the home).1 Critical contemporary and historiographic work keeps surveillance studies honest by checking its techno-determinist and techno-fetishist tendencies. Feminist and critical race scholars attend to the uneven application of surveillance technologies and practices across populations variously marked by race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, and ability. Each of these contemporary critical schools owes a debt of gratitude to Hall’s Policing the Crisis and his theory of articulation.

Primary Sources

Stasi archives, Berlin. As association of former GDR citizens’ committees have converted the former Stasi headquarters into a museum.

The Pinkerton Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Washington, DC.

FBI Collection, Washington DC.

Links to Digital Materials

The Verge (

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (

Arnes Venson Photography (

We-Aggregate (

Prison Communication Activism Research and Education Collective (PCARE) (

Prison Photography (

Reading the Pictures. The lens in the mirror: How surveillance is pictured in the media and public culture—A Joint Open Society—Bag News Salon (

Surveillance Art (

Trevor Paglen (

Hasan Elahi (

Surveillance and Society (

Surveillance Studies Network (

Simon Menner, Images from the Secret Stasi Archives or What Does Big Brother See, While He Is Watching? ( ).

Further Reading

  • Andrejevic, M. (2013). Infoglut: How too much information is changing the way we think and know. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Fischer, M. (2017). Under the ban-optic gaze: Chelsea Manning and the state’s surveillance of transgender bodies. In A. Glasbeek, R. Heynen, & E. van der Meulen (Eds.), Expanding the gaze: Gender and the politics of surveillance (pp. 185–207). Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.
  • Gates, K. (2011). Our biometric future: Facial recognition technology and the culture of surveillance, critical cultural communication. New York: New York University Press.
  • Gates, K., & Magnet, S. (2007). Communication research and the study of surveillance. Communication Review, 10(4), 277–293.
  • Gilliom, J. (2001). Overseers of the poor: Surveillance, resistance, and the limits of privacy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  • Lyon, D. (2015). Surveillance after Snowden. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
  • Magnet, S. (2011). When biometrics fail: Gender, race, and the technology of identity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • McKenzie, J. (2001). Perform or else: From discipline to performance. London, UK: Routledge.
  • Monahan, T. (2010). Surveillance in the time of insecurity. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  • Gilliom, J., & Monahan, T. (2012). SuperVision: An introduction to the surveillance society. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  • Ouellette, L., & Hay, J. (2008). Better living through reality TV: Television and post-welfare citizenship. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
  • Packer, J. (2008). Mobility without mayhem: Safety, cars, and citizenship. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Parks, L., & Kaplan, C. (Eds.). (2017). Life in the age of drones. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Parks, L., & Schwoch, J. (Eds.). (2012). Down to earth: Satellite technologies, industries, and cultures. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  • Puar, J. K. (2007). Terrorist assemblages: Homonationalism in queer times. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Reeves, J. (2015). License to kill: Trayvon Martin and the logic of exception. Cultural Studies <=> Critical Methodologies, 15(4), 287–291.
  • Robertson, C. (2012). The passport in America: The history of a document. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Salter, M. (Ed.). (2008). Politics at the airport. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Taylor, D. (2009). Afterward: War play. PMLA, 124(5), 1893.
  • Weber, B. (2009). Makeover TV: Selfhood, citizenship, and celebrity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


  • Ahmed, S. (2014). The cultural politics of emotion. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Andrejevic, M. (2004). Reality television: The work of being watched. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Andrejevic, M. (2007). iSpy: Surveillance and power in the interactive Era. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press.
  • Azoulay, A. (2008). The civil contract of photography. New York, NY: Zone Books.
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  • 1. Dubrofsky and Magnet, Feminist Surveillance Studies, 2015. For a critique of the use of biometric technologies on welfare recipients, see Magnet, When Biometrics Fail (2011). For a critique of the privacy debate from the perspective of low-income mothers, see John Gilliom, Overseers of the Poor: Surveillance, Resistance, and the Limits of Privacy (2001). For a critique of the heterosexism of the privacy critique of surveillance, see John McGrath, Loving Big Brother: Surveillance Culture and Performance Space (2004).