Surveillance has been a continual feature of human societies stretching back to antiquity. Modernity saw important changes in the use of surveillance, as it enabled multiple ordering and organising processes, and operated as a means to make visible a series of variously imagined forms of urban dangerousness including disease, disorder, dissent and, with Henry Mayhew’s cartographies of London, destitution. Surveillance practices thus diversified and extended beyond mere observations to become a means to make cities legible. As the city developed it became host to a range of increasingly intensified surveillance practices that worked to coerce, regulate and order elements of urban life. The twentieth century brought rapid changes in the ubiquity, potency and technological sophistication of surveillance practices and, as the century turned, 9/11 further catalyzed these developments and shepherded in many new coercive applications.
Despite such long histories surveillance remains a highly controversial issue today. Perhaps aided by the readily available dystopian imagery of Orwell, uncritical applications of the panopticon metaphor, and the frequently repeated binary of liberty versus security, many technologically advanced forms of surveillance have inspired a range of responses, often articulated in polarized expressions of outrage or techno-evangelism.
This paper examines the growth, application and impact of technological surveillance in relation to contemporary forms of urban security. It analyses how the city accommodates increasingly intensified surveillance practices that work to coerce, regulate and order elements of urban life. Drawing on data generated from a decade of overlapping empirical research projects analysing surveillance-driven security apparatuses in London and other UK cities the paper examines the practices and arrangements of urban security surveillance. In doing so, the diffusion of surveillance techniques at multiple registers of action are interrogated. At the same time, it traces how the proliferation of responsibilised security actors have drawn multiple diverse practices, organisational approaches and ambitions for control into play, generating numerous paradoxes in the way surveillance operates. Further complicating this picture is the rapid growth of digitally-generated content and its interrogation for security-related activities.
These developments not only provide challenges to the pursuit of security, but also the ways in which it has been theorized. Moving from classic neoliberal or, alternatively, sovereign-focused accounts of the dispatch of security, this paper draws on Foucault’s notions of ‘security’ (2007) and biopolitics (2008), along with the work of his tutor, Georges Canguilhem, to identify how contemporary urban surveillance and security practices are characterised by a series of processes including a move beyond territorial proscription, the assertion of non-Euclidian forms of topological relationality among the panopoly of security actors, and the tolerance of diverse bandwidths of subjectively-defined normality as a precursor for intervention. Moreover, the paper argues that such conceptualisations of security represent a move beyond spatial fixity to the management of circulations, where subjects are left in situ, but their mobilities are monitored, delineated and assessed and, ultimately, seeks to reclaim elements of Foucauldian surveillance-focused debate from the shadow of panoptic analyses.
Pete Fussey is a professor of sociology in the Department of Sociology at the University of Essex, UK. Professor Fussey’s main research interests focus on security, surveillance, control and the city. He has published widely in these areas and is a director of the Surveillance Studies Network, a global network of over 200 surveillance-focused academics situated in more than 50 countries. He is currently leading research activities on a five-year large-scale ESRC project analyzing the human rights implications of ICT-based and ‘big data’ enabled security practices in the US, UK, Brazil, Germany and India. Other recent funded research has included projects analyzing counter-terrorism in the UK’s crowded spaces and, separately, at future urban resilience towards 2050. His other work focuses on organised crime in the EU with particular reference to the trafficking of children for criminal exploitation (monograph in press to be published by Routledge in 2017). Recent books include Securing and Sustaining the Olympic City (Ashgate) and Terrorism and the Olympics (Routledge). A regular media commentator, Professor Fussey has also worked with and advised central and regional governments in the UK and Europe on a number of issues including the regulation of surveillance, public order policing and the security and social implications of urban mega-events. He also serves on the expert advisory panels for a number of large-scale EU initiatives researching human trafficking, urban security and resilience issues.
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