Re: Glasgow, CNN, and the panopticon

Landis writes:
>Has anybody else seen the story currently running on CNN Headline News
>about the surveillance cameras now in use in the commercial district of
>Glasgow? The police sit in front of the TV screens and control the cameras
>(which are set up about one to a street on tall, unobtrusive poles) by
>means of joysticks. Each camera offers a view of the entire street. The
>whole operation is funded almost entirely by private contributions, mostly
>from the companies with businesses in the district, above all Marks and
>Spencer department store. Of course, CNN cloaked the story in terms of
>Orwell's _1984_: "Just 10 years after George Orwell's vision of Big Brother
>was supposed to be real, frightened citizens have decided that privacy is
>not as important as protection from crime" (or something like that).

Deja vu!!!! Landis, the last time (June) we went down the road of
discussing the modern surveillance society, using the Panopticon metaphor
it provoked something of a disagreement between those who wanted to limit
this forum to very close, some may even say, boring readings of a
particular Foucauldian text and those who wished to be a bit more relaxed
in plowing their field of interest. In the light of today's other posting,
perhaps this time there will be a better reaction.

On 29 June I wrote : Consider Napoelon IIIs reconstruction of the city of
Paris. This involved the wholesale destruction of vast areas of slum
dwellings, not for public health/housing reasons or even for the protection
of 'public morality', but for reasons of: military defence and public
order. Those lovely boulevards form perfect lines of sight for the
survellance of the city both for threats from without, and more
importantly, threats from within.

Town planning nowdays often takes into account whether law-enforcement
authorities have clear lines of sight (either direct (visual), or indiect
(surveillance cameras)) through areas peopled by 'problematic populations',
often night spots popular with young people, or here in Australia,
aborigines. Coupled with this surveillance is often the flip-side of the
pan-optic concept: self-regulation. The surveillance is accompanied by a
public relations blitz informing those persons who use the area that they
are being watched. Like Bentham's panopticon, the theory appears to be
that knowledge of the POSSIBILITY of being observed, is enough to make
people discipline themselves, to behave in the required manner. This
internalisation of behavioural discipline is of course never absolutely
successful, particularly when young people are involved, but it is
interesting to note that this aspect of the disciplinary society crops up
all over the place:
* on the road - speed cameras, red-light cameras etc;
* at banks, inluding after hours: the automatic teller (cash-dispenser) machine;
* in my university library's photocopying rooms;
* at British football matches;
* on the streets of London;
* in supermarkets;
the list is endless.

While civil-libertarians may be concerned by such surveillance, it is
interesting as a point of theory to ask whether the model of the discrete
self-disciplining subject presupposed by the theory of
surveillance/discipline actually always that bad? Afterall the point of
Benthams model was to teach the 'liberation of self-control' to the
liscentious, deviant, masses. Foucault himself equivocates on whether the
breakdown of such self-repression in the 1960s as seen in the sexual
liberation and particularly in the gay-liberation movements was always such
a good thing ( see for example "Sexual Choice, Sexual Act" SALMAGUNDI
(1982-1983) "it is because the sexual act has become so easy and available
to homosexuals that it runs the risk of quickly becoming boring").

A "society without restrictions is inconceivable" , and therefore what it
is not the removal of such restrictions that is to be desired but the
possibility of resistance to them. That is what concerns me about the new
surveillance techniques- they are beyond the realm of traditional forms of
resistance. Perhaps new ones are required?

Tom Clarke
Australian National University

** e-mail tclarke@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx **
Research School of Social Sciences \ voice +61-6-249-2816
Australian National University \ Fax + 61-6-257-1893
Canberra ACT 0200 Australia

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