Journal for the Study of British Cultures, Vol. 19, No. 1/2012.
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JOURNAL FOR THE STUDY OF BRITISH CULTURES (JSBC)
Sebastian Berg, Englisches Seminar, Ruhr-Universität Bochum,
Universitätsstraße 150, 44801 Bochum, Germany.
Rainer Emig, Englisches Seminar, Universität Hannover,
Königsworther Platz 1, 30167 Hannover, Germany.
Gesa Stedman, Großbritannien-Zentrum / Centre for British Studies,
Humboldt-Universität Berlin, Mohrenstraße 60, 10117 Berlin, Germany.
Dirk Wiemann, Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universität
Potsdam, Am Neuen Palais 10, Haus 19, 14469 Potsdam, Germany.
Christian Schmitt-Kilb, Institut für Anglistik/Amerikanistik,
Universität Rostock, August-Bebel-Str. 28, 18051 Rostock, Germany.
Susanne Gruß (Erlangen-Nürnberg), Ina Habermann (Basel),
Jürgen Kamm (Passau), Jürgen Kramer (Dortmund),
Bernd Lenz (Passau), Gerry Mooney (Glasgow), Anette Pankratz
(Bochum), Ralf Schneider (Bielefeld), Jutta Schwarzkopf (Hannover),
Merle Tönnies (Paderborn).
Sabine Coelsch-Foisner (Salzburg), Simon Frith (Edinburgh),
Stuart Hall (Milton Keynes), Richard Kilborn (Stirling),
Bernhard Klein (Canterbury), Gabriele Rippl (Bern),
Roland Sturm (Erlangen-Nürnberg).
Guest Editor of this Issue:
Anja Müller-Wood, Department of English and Linguistics, Johannes
Gutenberg- Universität Mainz, Jakob-Welder-Weg 18, 55099 Mainz,
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Printed in Germany
Volume 19 · No. 1/12
Introduction: How Powerful is Big Brother?
The Bureaucratization of DissentPublic Order and Protest in Modern Britain
From Public Opinion to the Big SocietyModulations of Surveillance in the (Neo-)Nineteenth Century
Surveying Pubs, Cities and Unfit LivesGovernmentality, Drink and Space in Nineteenth-and Early Twentieth-Century Britain
Beyond Nineteen Eighty-FourContemporary Surveillance Narratives in England
Faultlines of Cinematic VoyeurismCCTV in Andrea Arnold’s Red Road (2006)
David Barnard-Wills (2012), Surveillance and Identity. Discourse,Subjectivity and the State
Julian Petley (2011), Film and Video Censorship in Modern Britain
Gerold Sedlmayr (2011), The Discourse of Madness in Britain,1790-1815. Medicine, Politics, Literature
Nadine Christina Böhm (2009), Sakrales Sehen. Strategien derSakralisierung im Kino der Jahrtausendwende
Silke Stroh (2011), Uneasy Subjects: Postcolonialism and ScottishGaelic Poetry
Susanne Gruss (2009), The Pleasure of the Feminist Tex:.Reading Michèle Roberts and Angela Carter
Christian Huck (2010), Fashioning Society, or, The Mode of Modernity:Observing Fashion in Eighteenth-Century Britain
Joanna Rostek (2011), Seaing through the Past: Postmodern Historiesand the Maritime Metaphor in Contemporary Anglophone Fiction
Addresses of Contributors
It seems that we live in a time of total surveillance: CCTV cameras everywhere, the uncontrollable spread of biometric recognition systems and more and more and increasingly surreptitious forms of data mining. Features that until not too long ago were the staple of dystopian sci-fi scenarios have infiltrated our everyday lives, lending support to the popular contention that ours is a ‘culture of control’ (David Garland). That these phenomena would be of particular interest to scholars of ‘British cultures’ clearly has to do with the fact that contemporary Britain appears to have become the Orwellian society to which the title of this issue of the Journal for the Study of British Cultures beckons: the UK is not only the one industrialised nation where surveillance is most widespread and ubiquitous – whose urban citizens “are watched over from cradle to grave” (Norris 2012: 252) – it also is at the forefront of the development of surveillance technologies and their export to technologically less advanced countries (see Doward & Lewis).
The academic project of surveillance studies began about twenty years ago in response to the developments illustrated in such striking and troubling ways by contemporary Britain. In investigating them, surveillance studies draws on and connects with numerous other disciplines: from sociology, which provides much of its theoretical-methodological basis, via the political sciences, geography, law and criminology, to cultural studies in its different manifestations more generally (cf. Lyon 2007: 18-22). The multi-disciplinarity of surveillance studies explains why it can feed so fruitfully into disciplines to which it is only tangentially related, and this compatibility is also illustrated by the present collection. Based on some of the papers presented at the 2011 conference of the German Association for the Study of British Cultures at Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, it documents that the topic of surveillance flourishes even in apparently unrelated academic contexts.
Yet the same conceptual fuzziness and thematic breadth that has made surveillance studies extremely adaptable have also led to an increasing scepticism within the field regarding its own identity and the ability of its methods to adequately grasp the complexity of the experiences and practices that it sets out to analyse. In fact, some of its own practitioners have described surveillance studies as both methodologically intransparent and ideologically dogmatic (cf. Ball & Haggerty 2005: 133). The resulting, and rather fraught, ‘search for surveillance theories’ (Lyon 2006) that would do justice to the complex realities that they seek to describe has to do not least with the difficulty of grasping the multifarious practices and technologies that the term ‘surveillance’ encompasses beyond its foundational association with supervision. The seminal reference point for surveillance studies was Jeremy Bentham’s design for a panopticon as appropriated by Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish (1975/1977) to capture the essence of modern social control; for quite some time now, however, surveillance studies has been at pains to go “beyond” this Foucauldian model (Coleman & McCahill 2011: 26), or even to ‘demolish’ it (Haggerty 2006). Critics not only point out that the panopticon’s emphasis on the visual does insufficient justice to the multitude of surveillance techniques currently in use, but also that the reference to this model must lead to simplistic results when not supported by extensive empirical data (see Zurawski 2007a: 8 and Kammerer 2008: 12; for an illustrative empirical micro-study see McCahill 2002). And even if “the panopticon refuses to go away” (2006: 4), as David Lyon, the doyen of Surveillance Studies, maintains, it cannot be denied that this powerful metaphor has undergone substantial differentiation and refinement in recent years.
Yet the lens of surveillance studies has not only widened because the proliferation and enhancement of technologies have made the act of surveillance more difficult to define, but also because of our increased awareness that the seemingly omnipresent regimes and techniques of surveillance are always potentially fallible and limited (see Norris 2012 and Williams 2009). Lyon cautiously notes that “just because a network of searchable databases appears to be able to track down minute details of personal life does not mean that it will do so” (Lyon 2007: 10). In fact, as is repeatedly pointed by surveillance scholars, given the sheer mass of information and data gathered with the aid of surveillance techniques, it is impossible to process, retrieve and evaluate (Norris 2012: 256-257). The fact that much of that data goes unnoticed and/or unanalysed has wide-ranging implications for our view of surveillance technology; above all, it casts doubt over the main arguments brought forward in its defence: namely that surveillance is crucial to the detection and prevention of crime, thus making our lives safer. Yet this, as surveillance scholars keep reminding us, is not the case. Rather, surveillance technologies contribute to the creation of a latent sense of fear which they simultaneously claim to abate (cf. Zurawski 2007b: 10). Instead of providing panaceas against real risks and dangers, they act like placebos (cf. Kammerer 2008: 347) – imaginary remedies against social ills whose extent and impact is often overstated.
If surveillance studies has in recent years become a more complex, diverse and dynamic area of research, much of this has also to do with the reintroduction of material reality into its debates. Lyon warns against a simplistic, totalising use of the term ‘surveillance society’, emphasising that reality is “much more nuanced, varying in intensity and often quite subtle” (Lyon 2007: 25) that such a label would suggest. In doing so, he implicitly expresses the need for local, empirical studies that can achieve this level of differentiation. Similarly, Coleman and McCahill contend that “surveillance practice” must be placed “within actually existing social relations, political priorities and prevailing cultural practices” (3) – already existing social frameworks that are complex, often asymmetrical, and marked by conflict: “Ultimately, surveillance cannot be divorced from social, political, economic and cultural struggles. It is these struggles that both shape surveillance and are shaped by it” (Coleman & McCahill 2011: 31).
In acknowledgement of this need, surveillance studies increasingly deal with what Foucault in his work following Discipline and Punish called ‘governmentality’, that is, the production and governance of citizens. However, as one of the contributors to this volume points out, governmentality “is not only the province of the state, and includes techniques with a broader purchase on the development of societies, economies and selves”, an awareness “present[ing] a useful challenge to more limited understandings of surveillance” (Kneale, this volume). This shift in interest is not only reflected by the field’s increasing concern with the discourses around the creation and maintenance of surveillance practices (cf. Coleman & McCahill 2011: 34), but also by its emphasis on the possibility that these practices are beneficial to their subjects (or at least seen as beneficial by them). In other words, moving away from a one-sided critique of surveillance technologies, scholars acknowledge their “Janus-faced” nature (Lyon qtd. in McCahill 2002: xi) and take surveillance to be a far from a unilateral process: in the words of David Lyon, it “is not merely something exercised on us as workers, citizens or travellers, it is a set of processes in which we are all involved, both as watched and as watchers” (Lyon 2007: 13). Despite surveillance studies’ “understandable predilection […] of concentrating on institutional actors impinging on the rights and others” (Monahan et al. 2008: 106), the representatives of the field have in recent years increasingly been attending to the topics of enjoyment and ‘empowerment’ (see the 2010 special issue of Surveillance & Society on the latter topic).
The beginning of this shift was marked by Thomas Mathiesen’s influential reconceptualisation of Foucault’s panopticon metaphor. In a media age, so Mathiesen’s view, the principle of “the few watching the many” underpinning this metaphor is insufficient and should be complemented by a ‘synoptic’ principle of “the many watching the few” (Mathiesen 1997: 230). The latter, he points out, facilitates the dissemination of power and ideology precisely because it provides an outlet for escapist desires. This view, with its echoes of a Frankfurt School Kulturpessimismus, has in recent years been rethought from the perspective of the more flexible Gramscian concept of hegemony which – because it invites a concern with “currents of resistance” (Doyle 2011: 290) – underpins much contemporary work in surveillance studies.
Still, as the essays in this collection illustrate, “we are […] in an important time of contestation over the cultural meanings of surveillance as control, as repression, and as empowerment and pleasure” (Murakami Wood 2009: 57), at least in parts. The contributors focus both on the historical continuity that characterises the topic of surveillance and the multifarious specificity of its practices today; they are concerned with its function both as a means of social control and a medium of individual agency. The collection opens with an essay that assesses yet another shift in emphasis. Maintaining that the new millennium (in particular after the events of 9 September 2001) marked the beginning of an age of risk aversion rather than crime prevention and detection, Ben Harbisher illustrates how surveillance is currently used in the UK as a means to criminalise once legitimate forms of dissent; he thereby ties in with the perennial critique of the belief that surveillance is an appropriate and effective means to respond to crime (cf. Coleman & McCahill 2011: 3). He does so by drawing attention to the semantic shift that accompanies and makes possible these criminalising revaluations, which led to the equation of, for instance, environmental campaigners and terrorist within the same ‘regulatory space’.
A concern with the rhetoric employed to outlaw certain activities and attitudes is also at the heart of Nadine Böhm-Schnitker’s essay, the first of two contributions written from a decidedly historical perspective. Reading George Meredith’s novel The Egoist and his “Essay on Comedy and the Comic Spirit” alongside a number of recent postulations by David Cameron, she uncovers the “argumentative convergences between nineteenth-century cultural politics and contemporary political culture”. This allows her to argue that however much contemporary surveillance technologies may appear as cutting-edge, their underlying intentions may in fact be nostalgic – as neo-Victorian as the literary subgenre of that name that is currently enjoying great popularity in literary studies. Her historical perspective reminds us that, however complex surveillance technologies have become, surveillance is per se an old issue, and that there is continuity in the processes and concerns that ultimately underpin it (cf. Coleman & McCahill 2011, esp. 39-66).
But taking a historical perspective may also have an effect beyond the continuity described by Böhm-Schnitker: Rather than identifying the nostalgia of contemporary thought, it may also lead to a more differentiated vision of the past against which the present is being defined. In the second historical essay of this collection, James Kneale views the surveillance of pubs, their owners and their frequenters in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Britain within a larger context that illustrates not only the interconnectedness and diversity of surveillance mechanisms but also their different, sometimes even productive, effects. The surveillance of drink and drinkers in the period in question, then, was far from a monolithic affair, allowing for flexible action and interaction with the techniques and policies available. In making this point, Kneale affirms the critical contention that surveillance must not only be seen in light of its effects on and interaction with existing social structures (cf. McCahill 2002: xii). What is more, his essay is illustrative of the kind of disciplinary self-reflexivity demanded by Ball & Haggerty (2005), who emphasise the need to reflect on the processes of ‘doing Surveillance Studies’, e.g. by investigating the conflicts, compromises and double allegiances in which surveillance scholars find themselves ensnared. Pointing out that surveillance techniques from the past provide invaluable data for the contemporary historian, Kneale reminds us that in the engagement with the topic of surveillance they are inevitably indebted to technologies they critique.
In a similar way, the ‘images of surveillance’ (Kammerer 2008) produced by surveillance technologies are complex and diverse, providing information that is open to misinterpretation and subversion alike (cf. Kammerer 2008: 9). Unsurprisingly, surveillance technologies have proved an enormous inspiration for artists, the study of which presents “perhaps the most exciting area of Surveillance Studies” (Murakami Wood 2009: 57). However, as Michael Krause points out in his article in this volume, discrete representations of and references to surveillance do not turn a novel or a film into a surveillance narrative. That the samples he discusses – the novel What Was Lost and the movie Hot Fuzz (both 2007) – can be seen in this way, has to do with the way they deliberately engage with contemporary surveillance strategies and practices so as to lead the reader/viewer to ask relevant questions about the nature of surveillance in contemporary Britain (as well as the possibility of undermining it). However, representations of surveillance techniques possess important aesthetic reverberations even when the kind of thematic engagement illustrated by these particular examples is deliberately eschewed. Red Road, Angela Arnold’s acclaimed movie from 2006, to which Lucia Krämer’s contribution is dedicated, in fact refrains from engaging with the real phenomenon of CCTV so as to criticise it – even though it features in the film and has contributed to its particular aesthetics. Against critics of the movie who have found fault with Arnold’s apparent lack of political commitment, Krämer argues that her film’s use of CCTV has a metaphoric function, contemplating not the close circuit reality of contemporary Britain, but the viewers’ own voyeurism.
The essays in this collection that hint at individuals’ complicity in processes of surveillance to which they are subjected raise the possibility that this participation may be voluntary. An interest in surveillance technologies related to consumption, apparently the field where individuals are most willing to subject themselves to technologies of surveillance, testifies to the utility of rethinking the processes of surveillance along those lines, and some of the essays in this collection at least hint at this possibility. Krämer’s essay in particular, which is based on an ostensibly common-sensical conflation of surveillance and voyeurism draws attention to the psychological desires that are behind strategies of surveillance at large. With this focus, she also introduces the often forgotten element of ‘human interest’ into the debate. What constitutes this interest? Why is it that we feel the need to look at others? Do we engage in looking because of a general scopophilia, or because watching others possess a fundamental relevance to us? In turn, why does there seem to be an increasing willingness to be looked at?
To pursue these questions would allow us to take the discussion around surveillance one step further. Mathiesen’s model suggests that it is the media that “inculcates a process of surveillance” that emphasises “the personal and the individual, the deviant, the shuddering, the titillating” (Mathiesen 1997: 230). But why are human beings open to such images in the first place? If, as Hille Koskela points out, “there is some voyeuristic fascination in looking, but, reciprocally, some exhibitionist fascination in being seen” (2006: 172), then how can that fascination be explained? Surveillance studies has begun to make tentative forays into that direction, as critics increasingly focus on the ‘productive’ nature of processes of surveillance and turn to considering individuals as both viewers and viewed. To fine-tune our understanding of the viewers’ perspective, however, an extension into human cognition and psychology might be called for. In an article prefacing the catalogue to the 2010 exhibition at the Tate Modern Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera, Sandra Philips astutely points out that “we cannot blame the camera for what it has done to us; nevertheless, it has made certain human predilections much easier to satisfy” (2010: 11). The phrase “certain human predilections”, albeit somewhat vague, should give us pause for thought. It might be precisely these predilections that may allow us to expand our way of thinking about surveillance – leading us to recognise, perhaps, that not only might Big Brother not be so big after all, but also that we ultimately make his power possible.
Neither this issue of the Journal for the Study of British Cultures nor the conference from which the articles collected here derive would have been possible without the generous support of a number of people. I am grateful to Rainer Emig, one of the journal’s editors, as well as the anonymous readers of the articles selected for publication, for their valuable comments and suggestions during earlier stages of the editorial process. I also thank the authors for their cooperation and patience. Proofreading and preparation of the typescript were undertaken by Sabine Julier, Michael Santowski and Dominik Wallerius at Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz. Further thanks go to Anette Pankratz, Chair of the German Association for the Study of British Cultures, for her encouragement before, during and after the 2011 ‘Britcult’ conference.
Ball, Kirstie & Kevin D. Haggerty (2005), “Editorial: Doing Surveillance Studies”, Surveillance & Society, 3. 2/3, 129-138.
BBC News (2006), “Britain is ‘Surveillance Society’”, 2 November, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6108496.stm (8 September 2012).
Clark, Liat (2012), “UK must stall export of surveillance tech to brutal regimes, or face legal action”, Wired (online) 25 July, http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-07/25/privacy-international-surveillance (8 September 2012).
Coleman, Roy & Michael McCahill (2011), Surveillance & Crime, London: Sage.
Doward, Jamie & Rebecca Lewis (2012), “UK ‘exporting surveillance technology to repressive nations’”, The Guardian (online) 7 April, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/07/surveillance-technology-repressive-regimes (8 September 2012).
Doyle, Aaron (2011), “Revisiting the Panopticon: Reconsidering Mathiesen’s ‘The Viewer Society’ in the Age of Web 2.0”, Theoretical Criminology, 15.3, 283-299.
Garland, David (2002), The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society, Oxford: Oxford UP.
Haggerty, Kevin D. (2006), “Tear Down the Walls: On Demolishing the Panopticon”, in David Lyon, ed., Theorizing Surveillance Studies, Cullompton and Portland: Willan Publishing, 23-45.
Kammerer, Dietmar (2008), Bilder der Überwachung, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.
Koskela, Hille (2006), “‘The Other Side of Surveillance’: Webcams, Power and Agency”, in David Lyon, ed., Theorizing Surveillance Studies, Cullompton and Portland: Willan Publishing, 163-181.
Lyon, David (2006), “The Search for Surveillance Theories”, in D.L., ed., Theorizing Surveillance Studies, Cullompton and Portland: Willan Publishing, 3-20.
– (2007). Surveillance Studies: An Overview, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Mathiesen, Thomas (1997), “The Viewer Society: Michel Foucault’s ‘Panopticon’ Revisited”, Theoretical Criminology, 1.2, 215-34.
McCahill, Michael (2002), The Surveillance Web: The Rise of Visual Surveillance in an English City, Cullompton and Portland: Willan Publishing.
Monahan, Torin, David J. Phillips & David Murakami Wood (2008), “Editorial: Surveillance and Empowerment”, Surveillance & Society 8.2, 106-112.
Murakami Wood, David (2009), “Situating Surveillance Studies”, Surveillance & Society 19, 52-61.
Norris, Clive (2012), “Accounting for the Global Growth of CCTV”, in Kirstie Ball, Kevin D. Haggerty & David Lyon, eds., Routledge Handbook of Surveillance Studies, London and New York: Routledge, 251-58.
Philips, Sandra S. (2010), “Looking out, Looking in: Voyeurism and its Affinities from the Beginning of Photography”, in S.P., ed., Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera, London: Tate Publishing, 11-15.
Williams, Chris, James Patterson & James Taylor (2009), “Police Filming English Streets in 1935: The Limits of Mediated Identification”, Surveillance & Society, 6.1, 32-39.
Zurawski, Nils, ed. (2007a), Surveillance Studies: Perspektiven eines Forschungsfeldes, Wuppertal: Budrich Uni Press.
– (2007b), Sicherheitsdiskurse: Angst, Kontrolle und Sicherheit in einer ‘gefährlichen’ Welt. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.
During the closing stages of the twentieth century Britain emerged to become a world leader in the routine surveillance of its territorial borders and citizens, following an increase in terrorist attacks and trade union disputes in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. From the mid-seventies onward, a series of militant organisations including the Provisional Irish Republican Army (the IRA), aggressively campaigned in Britain. In 1982 the Animal Rights Militia sent explosive devices through the mail to (former) Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and three opposition party leaders to protest against the laboratory testing of animals. In 1984 the IRA bombed Brighton’s Grand Hotel during the Conservative Party’s annual Conference. In 1988 Libyan extremists claimed responsibility for the Lockerbie disaster, resulting in the loss of 270 lives during the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103.
The rise in the sophistication of attacks against the UK, and the increasing complexities involved in tackling international crimes such as terrorism, fraud, or the trafficking of human beings and drugs seemed to many to make a new approach in policing necessary. In terms of managing Britain’s international borders and the cross-border movement of goods or finances, new strategies were devised, including the profiling of passengers from flight manifests to the meticulous screening of freight containers at sea ports (cf. Surveillance Studies Network 2006: 17). On the domestic front policing reforms were being discussed that would encourage local authorities to play a greater role in managing domestic affairs such as community protection and the maintenance of public order.
During the mid 1980s programmes such as ‘Safer Cities’ (circa 1986), began to draw a range of organisations into the world of crime-prevention (including city councils, and the social services), who had not previously been involved with law and order (cf. Lea 2007). In purely operational terms, collaborations between the police, local government authorities and private enterprise was based on intelligence that these separate institutions routinely gathered regarding the general public, highlighting a way in which this data could be shared between these partners. The development of inter-agency crime prevent prevention strategies would come to define a new era in domestic policing, although this would not gain formal recognition until the 1991 Morgan Report to the Home Office (HMSO).
During the 1980s a handful of pioneering cities explored the use of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) as a way to tackle inner city urban crime. The operational context from which these programmes in mass surveillance came into existence was based on the premise of risk prevention as opposed to the detection and punishment of crimes after the event. As with many preventative strategies in law enforcement, CCTV was intended to make it more difficult to commit crime, and therefore render it less appealing. However, the scheme has been subjected to continual criticism, for its part in segregating entire communities and for displacing crime to other unprotected neighbourhoods (cf. HMSO 2005: 6).
Birmingham’s ill-fated ‘Project Champion’ is one such example in which the deployment of CCTV failed to gain the support of local residents. During 2010, 218 CCTV cameras were installed in Muslim-populated areas of the city, at a cost of over £3 Million in anti-terrorism funding. However, due to the outrage of the communities targeted by the programme, the cameras were deactivated after less than twelve months of use (cf. BBC [online] 2011). Nevertheless, such factors have failed to prevent the spread and overall increase in the use of CCTV by Britain’s local authorities. In comparison to other major European cities, the BBC reported in 2009 [online] that there were over 7431 CCTV cameras in use in the London area, whereas local authorities in Paris had only 326 in operation.
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