Surveillance studies at ISA World Congress

On Tuesday and Wednesday the adhoc-session on Surveillance, Security and social sorting at the Sociology World Congress in Durban was being held. 12 papers were presented that had shown the wide range of surveillance studies and importance in many fields of the sciences and in society as such. Instead of dwelling on each individual paper I will try to give you an impression of the threads that ran through both of the sessions and highlight some aspects in particular.
The session was kicked off by David Lyon asking the speakers to watch out for commonalities throughout the papers – giving a working definition of surveillance that indeed the talks were able to follow

Surveillance should be seen as the routine and systematic attention/checking of personal data (through screening, recording etc.) for the purpose of control, management, entitlement, influence, access etc.

This is a loose quote of what he said – but something scholars of surveillance phenomena should debate and refine when discussing surveillance issues. Now to the papers…..

The Tuesday session was mostly devoted to the more technological issues and papers. Dean Wilson on biometrics in Australia – Heather Cameron on automated screening – Mun Cho Kim on Risk and Risk awareness and Minas Samatas with a very entertaining paper on the 2004 Olympics in Athens and its security measurements – or rather their failure. It was the last paper that provided a framework for the others or pulled them all together. Given that South Africa will host the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Athens could be seen as an example on how not to do it. The other speakers then showed what we might expect in 4 years time or indeed in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics in regard to Security, social sorting and the management of security risks – including the fabrication of fear to sell the products and strategies in the first place.

Wednesday’s papers were more focused on surveillance and everyday life issues. Christine Hentschel with some insights on policing and CCTV in Durban – Torin Monahan on health and self-surveillance technologies – Ann Rudinow Saetnan on statistics and risk predictability – pete fussy on the history of CCTV in London and Nelson Arteaga Botello on the surveillance and social control of violence in Mexico City – well and myself with a paper on mapping and surveillance…
The most prominent issues for me in this sessions were two: Profiling and mapping seem to be important and ever recurring issues when discussion surveillance issues. And they are important for social sorting processes. The second was the issue of self-surveillance as part of an surveillance assemblage. Self-surveillance as part of power and sorting strategies, which leaves the user/human/client/citizen with the task to watch and decide – not under coersion but seemingly voluntarily. The control regimes vanish behind the strategies leaving a blank spot and a surprise awakening once the surveillance fails..

I hope for comment long or short – hopefully from you guys that were at the session… I enjoyed it and hope we will continue this discussion here and various other places and will eventually draw more people’s attention to it as well…

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