Friday, 16 January 2009

Surveillance of Non-human life - ESRC/SNN

On the 8th Jan 2009, I attended the third workshop in the ESRC funded Surveillance Studies Network seminar series 'The everyday life of surveillance' on 'Surveillance of non-human life' about which I inititally had some scepticism, but since attending have been totally convinced of the importance of examining this topic. It was an attempt to counter the general focus in surveillance studies of surveillance of human beings. 

Andrew Donaldson (complete with blade-runner referencing T-shirt) gave a talk on root questions of animal agency, theories of animal agency and understanding animal behaviour, and the fundamental disconnect between developments in such theories (qualitative behavioural assessment) and new technologies such as DNA traceback.  
Andrew felt that we actually overplay human agency (fairly biologically determinist?). He also spent some time talking about foodchain surveillance, which may have prompted some people to turn vegitarian. He used an interesting concept of 'Virtuous food' and showed how the supermarket industry was able to use surveillance of its food chain in the name of the invisible consumer to exert greater control over its supply chain. He questioned exactly for whom this surveillance of animal welfare was being conducted.  He presented two model.s that might lead to this situation, one 'conspiracy' and the other 'clusterf**k'. It occured to me that there were very definite class dynamics in foodchain surveillance, and that the differential labelling (and monitoring) enable market segmentation.

The second presentation, by Gareth Enticott on Social capital and surveillance of bovine TB examined how the concept of biosecurity was constructed in various ways in government, veterenary and farming discourses. It gave an account of individual vs population health promotion, and how anecdotes were used to question science or policy pronouncements. Prevention was particularly problematic because success is marked by a non-event (same for counter-terror). There was also an acount of lay epidiologies. The presentation concluded with research done on farms with inspections into bovine TB, highlighting the conflict caused by the privatisation of TB inspection -  vets acting as inspectors on their normal clients (who pay their wages) and the various ways in which official protocol is subverted or avoided when faced with practical reality, and how the process was subjected to regulatory capture by farmers. 

Amber Marks, author of Headspace, which I think I've written about here before, gave a presentation, which included some powerpoint slides she'd 'borrowed' from various sources. These gave an amazing example of how technology is constructed as accurate ('there are no myths about technology' 'everybody knows how technology works'). This was in the context of a comparison between mechanical surveillance methods and the use of sniffer dogs.

Steve Hinchliffe gave a talk on an upcoming research project, for which he had been conducting preliminary pilot research. The project was about biosecurity borderlands: surveillance gone wild, and comprised of various strands, one of which is illegal meat markets in Birmingham. He spoke about the differing concepts of bio-security in various countries - the USA adopting a homeland security model based on bio-terror threats, expanding out to include non-intentional threats, the UK and EU reacting to foot and mouth, and Australia primarily focussed upon invasive species. His talk used a bio-political method to account for biosecurity. It was about regulation not prophylactics (modulations not curtailment), security not defence, geopolitics meeting biopolitics, and borderlands rather than boundaries, and the importance of preparedness and responsiveness.

The next seminar in the series is likely to be in April/May, I think in Edinburgh to co-ordinate with events organised by Mike Nellis on surveillance in Scotland, and will look at Surveillance and Regulation. I think Charles Raab is organising that one and it'll be right up my political science street. 

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