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The surveillance web : the rise and extent of visual surveillance in a northern city

Surveillance is something which has always existed. In the tribal cultures of preindustrial society, for example, the level of social surveillance was intense, because most people could see and hear just about everything that was going on in the camp (McCrone, 1995). In modern industrial societies, on the other hand, bureaucratic surveillance emerged as a highly rationalised mode of information gathering in response to the size and complexity of the administrative tasks faced by the modem nation state (Giddens, 1985; Dandeker, 1990). But with the recent advance of the so-called 'information revolution', many theorists have asked whether the advent of modem video, computer and telecommunications systems have given rise to a new surveillance, qualitatively different from that which existed before (see Lyon, 1994: 40-56). The main features of the 'new surveillance' are summed up by Gary T. Marx (1988), who states that it transcends distance, time, darkness and physical barriers; it is invisible (or of low visibility), involuntary, capital rather than labour intensive, involves decentralised self-policing, introduces suspicion of whole categories of persons rather than targeting specific individuals, and is both more intensive and more extensive (Lyon, 1994: 68). As David Lyon (1993, 1994) has pointed out, in an attempt to come to grips with the New Surveillance many writers have seized upon Foucault's idea of the Panopticon as a metaphor which captures neatly some of the features of contemporary society, linking changing technologies of surveillance with the debate over the emergence of the Information Age. Most of this literature has focused on computerisation and in particular at how 'the shift from paper-based to digital documentation heralds several profound changes in the nature and extent of surveillance' (Poster, 1990; Robins and Webster, 1988; Gandy, 1993). Thus, according to these writers, the ultimate realisation of the panoptic on is facilitated by information technology which means that 'not just the prison or the factory, but the social totality, comes to function as the hierarchical and disciplinary panoptic machine' (Robins and Webster, 1988: 59). For many writers, the rise of visual surveillance systems reflects this dynamic extending the disciplinary power of the panopticon to non-institutionalised public and private spaces (Fyfe and Bannister, 1994; Reeve, 1998). A combination of modern video and telecommunications systems has extended the disciplinary potential of surveillance systems in both time and space. As a result of these technological developments surveillance is no longer confined to the enclosed and controlled settings of institutions, the direct supervision of the subject population no longer requires the physical co-presence of the observer, and images can be 'lifted out' of the immediate nexus of social control and authoritative interventions made at some future, as yet unspecified, time and place. However, the present study is not concerned solely with the novelty or otherwise of visual surveillance systems. Instead, it attempts to show how the introduction of 'new' technology fits in with 'old' social practices and with 'existing' human relations. The study begins by telling a story about Northern City and its relationship with closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance systems. The use of the word relationship here is important, because it implies a two-way relationship between society and technology. This approach rejects the notion that technological systems 'have some autonomous "logic" which "impacts" on cities as an external force' (Graham and Marvin, 1996: 104). Instead, it aims to show how 'individuals, social groups and institutions ... have some degree of choice in shaping the design, development and application of technologies in specific cases' (ibid: 105). This approach focuses our attention on a number of issues. For instance, how is the construction and application of 'new' technology shaped by existing local elites? Does the human mediation of technology place limits on panoptic systems? How does the introduction of new technology fit in with the existing organisational, occupational and personal concerns of those operating the systems? Does the exclusionary potential of new technology reinforce existing social divisions? These are just some of the questions to be addressed in this thesis. Chapter one reviews the current literature by locating and analysing the growth of CCTV surveillance systems in relation to the central concerns of theorists of modernity. The themes of 'time-space distanciation', 'globalisation' and 'risk' are used in an attempt to identify some of the technological, socio-economic, and political forces that are propelling the CCTV revolution. Chapter two takes us from 'grand theory' to the 'real world' by posing the following question: How did CCTV become the new 'common sense' in contemporary strategies of crime control? This question is addressed by examining the debate over the introduction of CCTV surveillance systems in one city in the North of England (Northern City). The chapter draws on various texts - interviews, council documents and a local newspaper - to show how 'new modes of governance' (Garland, 1996) in crime control created a convergence of interests in Northern City which pushed CCTV to the top of the agenda. Chapter three argues that the starting point for any attempt to understand the impact of visual surveillance systems must be to take as its object of analysis not a separate and discrete CCTV system, but a 'surveillance web'. It is shown how a combination of public and private CCTV systems linked with pager systems, panic alarms, radio links and mobile and fixed telephone networks is facilitating the development of surveillance web's which weave unseen through the fabric of contemporary cities. Chapters four to six provide detailed case studies of the construction and operation of CCTV systems in two shopping malls, the workplace, and high-rise housing schemes. Chapter seven takes us back to theory and discusses the implications of the present study for theories of time-space, surveillance and social control.
Date January 1999
CreatorsMcCahill, Michael
PublisherUniversity of Hull
Source SetsEthos UK
Detected LanguageEnglish
TypeElectronic Thesis or Dissertation

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