Monday, 12 April 2010

A Global Surveillance Society?

Tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday, I'll be attending (and currently very much looking forward to) the surveillance studies network/living in surveillance societies conference 'A Global Surveillance Society?' at City University, London.

The theme of the conference is as follows.

Surveillance is a ubiquitous feature of living in the global north, with citizens routinely monitored by a range of sophisticated technologies. Increasing levels of surveillance are typically justified by the threat of terrorism, crime and disorder, and to improve public and private services. However, surveillance is also a feature of developing societies, and manifests in different ways, with different rationales, purposes and within different systems of governance. In this conference we would like to expand and relativise understandings of surveillance as a trans-national, trans-border and trans-cultural phenomenon.


I'm really glad to see that not only is this an international conference, but that a strong theme of it is international. This is a point that I've tried to make in a paper with Ces Moore that's currently been resubmitted to a journal. That surveillance practices exist at an international level of analysis, as well as at a local level. Comparative studies are good (and necessary for working out the dynamics) but some more attention needs to be paid to the flows and interactions. For example, when looking at terrorism in India, and the surveillant responses that were being discussed, many Indian commentators looked to the use of CCTV in the UK (and its representation) as something which they should emulate to counter-terrorism. These flows of security and surveillance practices cross borders. In doing so they change, combine or discard material - being abstracted.

I'm giving a paper on thursday on the implications for surveillance theory (and practice) from the 'human security' vs 'national security' debate. It's coming from an explicitly international relations perspective. I've noticed that the idea of 'human security' has been cropping up in a few places in surveillance studies of late. This paper came out of teaching a class or two on Human Security whilst at the University of Birmingham. There's quite a literature (and practice) based around the concept, and whilst it is a different way of thinking about things to 'national security' its got some baggage - which is what the paper's about really.

There's a joint plenary session on wednesday, that I'm really interested in hearing. David Lyon and Didier Bigo will be talking about the commonalities between surveillance studies and security studies. I'm really excited about this because that's often where I find myself situated - at least when I was working at Birmingham. Security studies is much familiar ground, or at least a way of explaining my work, to people within Political Science. So it'd be great to have their perspectives on this. Personnally, I'm temtped to think there is a large degree of overlap, with some caveats - not all surveillance is security for example, and not all security politics are surveillance - but there's a lot of common logics, in addition to the important international dimension mentioned previously.

There's a section in my own paper where I try to engage with some of these questions regarding international relations/surveillance studies overlap. I'm happy with the position I've taken with that, but if some good points are made, then I'll surely be taking them into account.

I love a last minute re-write, during the conference dinner. Which has a celidh, so I'll be sitting away from that pretending my lack of co-ordination is some form of principled avoidance of what appears to be a barn dance.

I'm also happy to be chairing two panel sessions. One on politics and the other on regulation . On Tuesday afternoon, Darlis Mojarrieta Castenada, Catarina Fois, and Minas Samatas, and then Paul de Hert, Thomas F. Ruddy and Rozemarjin Van Der Hilst.

And when I can get to them, I'll be keeping an eye on the various panels and papers looking at online surveillance, given how central that is to the VOME project.

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