Surveillance Technology and Policing Research Paper

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Policing is in a state of transformation. Traditional paradigms founded on reactive and responsive principles are being superseded by contemporary risk-based models, proactive and preemptive approaches that encompass an array of stakeholders and sophisticated technologies. The “new policing” is underpinned and driven by intelligence-led doctrines, performance indicator metrics, and desires to better identify crime patterns. Although many relational factors account for these changes in policing ideology and praxis, the integration of – and reliance on surveillance technologies and associated “visibility” rationalities has been particularly pivotal. Yet the widespread availability of surveillance technologies is simultaneously diversifying policing practices and responsibilities. Civil/commercial organizations and citizen/consumers are, for example, increasingly participating in the inspection and assessment of behavior, albeit for often differing purposes. The perpetual interweaving of visibility-inducing systems into the cultural fabric of everyday living and concomitant heterogeneity of actors who now engage in regulatory activities has generated two major effects: (a) policing opportunities have increased; and (b) supervisory webs have become progressively intricate and multi-dimensional in semblance. “Policing” is now a pluralized social practice that extends far beyond “the police.” Indeed, the “policing creep” emerging from intensifying visibilities generates for criminologists important theoretical, empirical and ethical questions, some of which inform the substantive focus and thematic arrangement of this research paper.

In order to arrive at an understanding of the surveillance technology-policing nexus, this research paper commences with an overview of the emerging techniques of visibility now infusing the social orders of privileged global provinces. This will enable us to better grasp the assortment of observational devices being routinely deployed, the heterogeneous nature of operational procedures, and the differing populations now engaged in the policing of subjects. It will also permit us to comprehend some emergent social effects. A case study analyzing closed-circuit television (CCTV hereafter) camera system growth in the global north will then show empirically how surveillance technologies can modify and transform existing policing structures. This section draws further attention to the evolving labor force now performing, in this case, paid policing duties.

This research paper, therefore, is not a story about “surveillance and the police” per se. Rather, it is an account describing how the widespread distribution of surveillance technologies ruptures previous modes of social control and instigates novel policing configurations. Criminologists are only beginning to comprehend the social implications attendant on these changes.

Surveillance Technologies And Rationalities

The rapid and extensive diffusion of surveillance technologies into the architecture of contemporary living has, in recent decades, been a particularly salient development in social governance. Everyday actions are targeted by an expanding arsenal of monitoring devices. Indeed, it has become well-nigh impossible to complete commonplace tasks in privileged wordly regions without encountering a diverse set of data capturing “probes.” CCTV camera systems, airport body scanners, DNA swabs, X-ray scanners, and Web browsing cookies, for example, perpetually extract personal information “particles” from the data trails that accompany our daily activities. Tracking and transmission technologies such as radio-frequency identification (RFID) microchips and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are now embedded in all manner of mundane objects: credit cards, cell phones, and smart passports being obvious illustrations.

Despite embodying differences in terms of technical components and physical dimensions, there are general similarities between and among surveillance technologies on an operational front. Most function to procure, transport, and then ultimately deposit data emissions derived from embodied acts – that is, from walking down a street, making an online purchase, and sending a SMS text message – into a complex cybernetic matrix commonly known as “the database.” These vast informatic chambers decontextualize behaviors both by systematically removing them from their circumstantial origin and by rendering behavioral expressions into a series of discrete data flows. A person’s consumption profile, for instance, can be inferred from analyzing her or his credit card statements. Buying habits, in this example, are deemed to reveal social status and thus customer “worth.” Rather than take into consideration the infinite causal variables influencing the decision to purchase a product, these systems focus attention instead upon tangible outcomes and seek to aggregate data from multiple sources so that “tendencies” can be ascertained. Similar to how social research data is arranged, personal information is recurrently coded, collated, mined, or “recontextualized” by a set of surveillance workers – be they human (e.g., a CCTV operator) or nonhuman (e.g., a computer code) – in accordance with an assortment of organizational imperatives. This allows for historical activities to be logged, social relations to be mapped, actions to be compared, and causal patterns to be identified. Based on such information, risk/return evaluations of specific phenomena can be undertaken and decisions reached, for example, whether or not to invest capital in a specific enterprise, whether or not to trust a job applicant, and whether or not to proffer credit to a prospective customer. Direct human mediation in data analysis and processing is declining as systems of surveillance develop in capacity and sophistication. Computerized software is increasingly favored to autonomously dispose the information collected.

Surveillance technologies are a rationalized means to enhance visibility, to sharpen decisionmaking, and to more effectively manage resources, helping their overseers determine risk propensities, investment potentials, trustworthiness, and suspiciousness. They expose and scrutinize discrete social processes (such as disease intensity, voting patterns, or market relations) and help identify probable correlations between and among variables. They permit interest groups to accumulate intimate knowledge about specific phenomena (e.g., population health in specific regions) and to fashion corresponding interventions from an informed perspective (e.g., the proposed location of a health clinic). They provide a calculative lens through which all manner of truth claims can be assessed and adjudicated (e.g., an asylum seeker application or a credit request). As such, surveillance operates at the very heart of organizational protocol, specifically as it (a) enables social complexity in all its manifestations to be captured and (b) facilitates complexity governance and uncertainty reduction. Indeed the visibility – that is, the capacity to see and be seen – produced by systems of surveillance is fundamentally transforming the conditions of contemporary social life and how we relate to one another. Desires to know, order, govern, and entertain are exposing people and processes in much finer detail, and this situation is both diversifying and intensifying formal and informal policing arrangements.

Surveillance technologies reveal previously concealed facets of life and circulate mediated personal intimacies to an audience that increasingly is pluralized, remote and anonymous. An example of this process can be discerned from examining Web 2.0 engagement. Social media sites like Facebook proactively encourage users both to self-disclose/self-promote and to peruse the exteriorized musings (“newsfeeds”) of fellow participants. User curiosity and voluntarism is exploited and manipulated in strategic ways, system programmers systematically designing and assembling an array of infrastructural mechanisms to sustain interest levels – and thus asset sustainability and value. Incentivizing architectures ensure that acts of revelation are celebrated and rewarded and that tracking the lives of others is experienced as an addictive and pleasurable pastime. The pellucid nature of these online registries permits emotive posts and graphic images to be accessed and deciphered by an army of unseen inspectors (e.g., peers, employers, marketers, and law enforcement agencies), the biographical information deposited revealing vital clues about a particular person’s ideological values, consumer preferences, and psychological disposition. This knowledge can then be utilized by the various spectators to construct character profiles and to rationalize interventions, specifically procedures aimed at modulating and engineering conduct in some desired way (Trottier 2012).

We can perceive from this illustration the contemporary heterogeneity of policing, in terms of contributors and purposes. The operational reach and remit of policing continues to broaden as surveillance technologies extend purviews deeper into the backstage regions of personal life. Indeed, it is helpful to conceive people as “cyborg” entities, comprised of physical biomatter and informatic particles: the latter material being willingly emitted – and coercively extracted – from our embodied actions in the course of everyday living. The point to note is that personal data has become a highly valued unit of currency for problem analysis and decision-making, its textual content shaping significantly how particular individuals and social groups are perceived and subsequently treated by differing organizational systems. Rather than trusting a person’s narrative or status claim at face value, interlocutors increasingly prefer to discern legitimacy and authenticity from the information encased within a set of corresponding archival records or what I term, “surveillance texts.” Although often derived from certified or valid documents – for example, medical consultation notes, criminal records, bank statements, and tax returns – employers, law enforcers, and insurance actuaries also obtain knowledge fragments from unofficial and aspatial communicational mediums like Twitter and Facebook, and from personal email correspondence. Each source comprises discrete “event descriptors” that, when collated, depict previous conduct (e.g., consumption preferences) and circumstances (e.g., health conditions). It is believed that analysis of multiple surveillance texts will reveal (a) a detailed picture of a person’s disposition and (b) a more accurate representation of her or his social positioning and future trajectory. This permits the adjudicating authority to effectively bypass or short-circuit what is perceived as the contrived nature of self-presentations, unveiling instead preconscious forms of cognition (Andrejevic 2010). In a world increasingly defined by information glut and uncertainty (a situation ironically accentuated by the intensification of visibility), surveillance systems act as critical arbitration tools, a means for truth establishment and narrative verification, a means for individuating and stratifying populations, and a means for regulating access to resources.

Surveillance systems mostly operate in hegemonic ways, functioning to maintain the interests of a privileged elite and thus a particular fiscal status quo. Yet the gradual diffusion and sedimentation of surveillance should not be understood as some ideological conspiracy that has been engineered by a statecorporate cartel. In contrast, a surveillance system or device intrinsically is neither benign nor malign, the sociocultural relations in which the apparatus is entangled effectively shaping its everyday orientation (see Smith 2013). Indeed, state authorities and administrators depend upon an assortment of surveillance machineries and practices to ensure the deliverance of democratic commitments and ideals: that voting rights are upheld, that law and order is maintained, that taxation thresholds are accurately set, and that designated populations are granted access to welfare services and benefits. Surveillance technologies, for example, are regularly utilized to assess and manage a nation’s health. Disease epidemiologists use biostatistics to identify and gauge immanent biosecurity threats, while medical practitioners use hi-tech screening equipment to better envision patients’ bodies so that malignant cells can be located and tissue injuries reliably evaluated. Law enforcers employ a range of surveillance techniques to investigate suspects, to acquire evidence and to direct operations. Moreover, surveillance is exploited strategically as both a thematic currency and a textual commodity by an assortment of cultural producers, be they formal commercial organizations or civic communities. People are regularly exposed to surveillance symbolism and output in the course of consuming a range of media broadcasts. Surveillance texts often depict graphic content the witnessing of which can be both shocking and entertaining. As a distinctive subject-matter, surveillance is artfully appropriated by groups possessing a diversity of political agendas, artistic aesthetics and economic motivations. The ensuing struggle over surveillance representations in popular culture encourages audiences to approach surveillance technologies with an attitudinal cynicism and ambivalence stimuli and representations. Surveillance is also deployed to increase the speed and simplicity of transactions between individuals and organizations and to enhance the flexibility, convenience, and efficiency of these encounters. In addition, surveillance is fast becoming a medium through which powerful groups can be made more accountable for their actions. Footage captured on a G-20 protestor’s personal video camera, for instance, revealed a civilian being unlawfully assaulted by a police officer (see ian-tomlinson-g20-death-video, accessed 18/5/2012).

Despite notable exceptions – where surveillance technologies are harnessed to serve the interests of vulnerable individuals and periphery collectives – data-hungry social and commercial institutions are the overwhelming winners of surveillance ubiquity. This is because capturing and analysis technologies afford these agencies statistical knowledge on social trends and attitudes, allowing evidence-based responses – in terms of policy or commodity design – to be instrumentally engineered and actualized. Surveillance infrastructures and circuitries greatly abet elite groups, to the extent that they help to legitimize their domination, accentuate their expertise, foster their definitional capacities, and protect their capital, interests and resources. Indeed, a core operational objective is the differential classification and division of groups in accordance with their perceived position in the social hierarchy, their projected risk level, and their assigned market value (Gandy 1993; 2009). Thus, in an economic order defined by mass consumption and in a political order characterized by omnipresent security concerns, population distrust, and risk-sensitive policies, it is people residing in disadvantaged locales without the means to consume, or those whose ethnicity, piousness, skin color, and occupation contravene a dominant (normative) security discourse, who are recurrently subject to disproportionate levels of scrutiny (Norris and Armstrong 1999; Lyon 2003). Procurement of a stigmatizing or discrediting label can mean that an individual or collective is denied access to certain spaces and/or refused basic rights, resources and privileges (Monahan 2008; Zureik et al. 2011). Thus, because surveillance systems embody the prejudicial essentialism of their controllers, they tend to produce exclusionary outcomes and perpetrate social injustices.

The Diversification Of Policing Responsibility

A major outcome of neoliberal policy has been an aspiration by elite groups to instill a “responsibility ethic” and “cosmopolitan sensibility” within the psyches of the population: an expectation that citizens play an active role in managing risk. This expectation primarily relates to personal health and safety practices but also to deportment in the economic and ecological spheres. In the law and order field, adoption of a “responsibilization” rationality (see O’Malley 1996) by state authorities has profoundly transformed the meaning of “criminality” and “citizenship.” What historically had been a matter for formalized policing agencies has now become a community issue demanding multiagency interventions; policymakers eager to enlist in quotidian supervision practices both civil society actors and the private sector. Criminality itself has been discursively reconstituted as a set of hierarchical thresholds, ranging from lower level civil transgressions to higher order terrorist/biosecurity risks. This stratification – and concomitant governmental desire to mobilize as “crime managers” various groups – has produced a distinctive set of stakeholders (e.g., citizens, proprietors, and council workers) who are now equipped with specialized powers – and ascribed specific obligations – for addressing particular expressions of disobedience (Rose 2000; Garland 2001).

The emergence of civil “on-the-spot” penalty notifications, laws persecuting parents for child truancy, community “wardens,” neighborhood watch programs, and dispersal/antisocial behavior orders are notable empirical instances of a general trend to prescribe codes of etiquette and to assign any violation – or manifestation of deviance – with a particular regulatory custodian (e.g., a parent, a schoolteacher, a social worker, or a transport marshal). Indeed, the diversification of actors now responsible for everyday surveillance and social ordering marks a distinct paradigm transition in policing ideology and application, from a traditional model which was largely “reactive and localized/centralized,” that is, post facto and exclusive, to one which is now “proactive and dispersed/pluralized,” that is, anticipatory and inclusive (McLaughlin 2007).

Such changes in policing praxis correlate with the neoliberal state’s remit to buttress declining security budgets/provision and to “govern at a distance” (Miller and Rose 1990) with a corresponding engagement (or exploitation) of community groups and corporate agencies in the collective “fight against crime” (Garland 2001). They also accord with an allied desire to sponsor the implementation of hi-tech surveillance infrastructures which operate according to intelligence-led axioms and preemptive principles (see Elmer and Opel 2008). The Texas Virtual Border Watch program is an apposite illustration (, accessed 30/5/ 2012). This online initiative effectively transforms citizens into custodial guardians of the United States–Mexico border. It encourages participants, through financial incentives, to identify and report suspicious mobilities and to adopt a nationalistic sensibility: a cognitive disposition that is hostile to the context prompting a decision to enter illegally a foreign sovereign territory. An uncompassionate and uncompromising mentality orientated to informing and supervising is, in this process, deemed to be a desirable civil ethic (Koskela 2011). These policy transformations (e.g., enlisting communities in addressing lower order criminality) simultaneously grant formal policing organizations special license to concentrate finite resources on tackling serious and organized crime and an assortment of high-level national security threats. Moreover, it is in this transitional climate that policing authorities have increasingly adopted surveillance technologies as ways of managing shrinking quotas and the complexities associated with transnational law enforcement in the information age.

The rolling out of large-scale socio-technical assemblages such as DNA databanks and CCTV camera networks demonstrates how responsibilities for managing crime and disorder are transferring from a dependence on theological precepts, authoritarian physicality, and human informants to a faith in scientific expertise and technical solutions. The fetishization or over-privileging of scientific discourse and technical systems by governmental actors, while partly operational, is in large part symbolic and in response to a perceived “crisis” in traditional policing approaches, brought on by austerity measures, rising crime fears, and high profile institutional failings/operational incompetence (McLaughlin 2008). Utilizing sophisticated technological infrastructures and computer-powered calculative metrics permits policing agencies to identify criminogenic patterns and to anticipate prospective security threats (Ericson and Haggerty 1997). It is now possible to collate previously discrete data fragments and create “criminality constellations.” The Metropolitan Police’s crime map (, accessed 20/5/2012) is an apt example. Based on the quantitative aggregation of crime reports and statistics, policing authorities are able to spatially and temporally envision felony rates and correlations within the urban metropolis. This ensures that any proposed crime prevention initiative or awareness-raising campaign has an empirical foundation and is measurable. It also means that resources can be rationally deployed in strategic and targeted ways and decision-making protocol as it relates to criminal investigations can be externally validated and legitimized. It additionally permits bureaucratic officials and police managers to set performance targets and impose evaluative frameworks.

Evidently, these applications have multiple users and serve numerous purposes. Insurance companies, for example, are keen to exploit crime data to calibrate premiums, privileged citizens to distinguish (un)desirable locations for settlement, and marketers to direct advertising toward amenable communities (and away from others). The employment of actuarial techniques by formalized policing entities means that, based on available indicators, persons and groups acquire a risk rating (Feeley and Simon 1994). This computer-generated calculation effectively comes to determine the type and intensity of scrutiny that is then actioned. Gradual erosion of the “innocent until proven guilty” legal criterion has been an outcome of these developments and wider antisocial behavior and anti-terror policies. Increasingly, policing logic has more unity with a “guilty until proven innocent” aphorism, as shown in recent UK legislation endowing extraordinary preventive and regulatory powers to police forces. These laws grant police officers special license to “randomly” stop and search individuals, to disperse groups of young people, to preemptively detain terror “suspects” without charge, and to demand that protestors register their personal details before attending demonstrations. They also permit law enforcers to acquire sensitive personal data derived from the activities of law-abiding persons (http://, accessed 20/5/2012) and to ascribe “suspect status” to an individual on the basis of her or his communicative position within a criminalized informatic network ( technology/8245056.stm, accessed 24/5/2012). Similarly, landmark statutes such as the USA Patriot Act (2001) bestow exceptional powers to national security agencies in terms of intelligence gathering and information sharing protocol, and facilitate the introduction of ever more intrusive surveillance measures. These bills tend to be passed with limited public consultation or debate in moments of intense emotionality, for example, in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist act or in advance of mega events like the Olympic Games or a G20 convention, when anger and fear – rather than critical rationalism and reflexivity – orientate the collective consciousness and the political will.

Surveillance Technologies And Surveillance Work

The previous sections described how and why governmental desires and reality-capturing devices have extended policing practices into the circuitries of everyday living. CCTV is an insightful example of how policing praxis has co-evolved with technological supplementation, specifically in terms of the emerging complexity of social relations and operational remits that now constitute such regulatory systems. There are additional reasons for considering CCTV. Focusing on the exponential growth of camera networks in the global north illuminates the complex politics and rationalities underpinning surveillance diffusion. Moreover, considering novel policing modalities such as CCTV focuses attention on the unique type of labor – or “surveillance work” – that the camera operators routinely practice. These “order custodians” are subsidized to remotely encounter, capture, and “manage” mediated scenes of criminality and disorder, transgressive spectacles to which such workers are repeatedly exposed but over which they have no direct control. Reflecting on how the introduction of CCTV cameras transforms policing practices in both intentional (official) and unintentional (informal) ways provides clues for envisaging the likely impact of additional surveillance technologies on conventional policing protocol.

CCTV provision has dramatically increased in recent years. This is particularly true of the UK, a world leader in terms of its camera coverage. While a complex politics, at local, regional, and national levels, surrounds the augmentation process (see Fussey 2007; Norris and Armstrong 1999), the 1980s economic recession was a decisive factor in the state’s decision to legislatively promote and financially sponsor a series of installation programs. Rising crime rates associated with growing unemployment, a declining welfare system and resource inequities, and a corresponding amplification of the issue by media reportage impelled a public perception that policing agencies were failing in their bid to control criminality. Successfully redressing this situation became a central political issue, Home Office officials desperate to introduce a progressive “silver bullet” solution that would enhance the policing service and “treat” in an effective manner the physical symptoms of structural disparities (note similarities between this scenario and the one depicted in science fiction movie, Robocop (1987)). The intelligence battles of the Cold War period meant that an array of advanced militarized surveillance technologies were available for civil market appropriation. CCTV was one such innovation (Norris and Armstrong 1999).

Preliminary evaluations of pilot projects in several jurisdictions showed that public space camera networks could reduce particular acts of disobedience by around 40%. Although this research was methodologically problematic and predominantly administered by self-interested practitioners, the extraordinary statistics persuaded ruling technocrats that CCTV camera networks were worthy of significant financial investment (Gill and Spriggs 2005). Cities were encouraged to compete with one another for allocated monies totalling millions of pounds, and camera systems rapidly became akin to a “fifth utility” service (Graham 2001).

The favouring of CCTV systems by urban authorities was also the outcome of neoliberal “urban renaissance” policies which advocated restructuring of the metropolis around commercial imperatives and resiliency ideals (Atkinson and Helms 2007; Coaffee et al. 2009). This principally involved spatial revitalization, market liberalization, and the assembly of vibrant, leisure economies. Manipulating consumer perception became a central directive of the project, and CCTV cameras were deployed to help promote an impression of safety that would facilitate increased consumption and a “feel good factor”.

A further factor fostering CCTV’s wider cultural appeal was the global circulation of images showing Merseyside toddler, Jamie Bulger, being abducted by two ten-year-old boys in a Bootle shopping mall (Norris and Armstrong 1999). Although the cameras did nothing to prevent the child’s violent death, the moral outrage and anxiety associated with this act as symbolized by the grainy pictures was, for different reasons, exploited by an array of state, media, and industry actors. Notwithstanding an assortment of competing rationales and rationalities, each agency had a vested interest in sponsoring CCTV deployment. The government had an interest in endorsing system efficacy to accrue public support and thus political capital/ leverage. The police had an interest in supporting CCTV implementation as cameras could bolster conviction rates, sharpen operational activities and enhance investigative practices. The media had an interest in acquiring “authentic” camera footage to both disturb and amuse a scopophilic audience, that is, an audience obsessed with the spectacle. The security industry had an interest in promoting CCTV’s effectiveness to generate increased demand for the technologies and for training programs.

The symbolism embodied in these initiatives is worth reflecting upon. The cameras act as materialized signifiers of sovereign authority and symbolize a profound distrust of the public by ruling groups. They cultivate conformity to the consumer order and, in the process, reify dominant definitions of appropriate urban conduct. They become the instruments through which discrediting labels can be ascribed to and enacted upon particular stigmatized groups (Norris and Armstrong 1999). They operate as architectural barriers for rationally thinking criminals to circumnavigate, obstacles hindering the ease with which an act of criminality can be perpetrated in a particular locale. Camera networks are aesthetic additions to the urban landscape and represent a city’s prosperity and progressiveness (Graham 2001). They become part of the political discourse on risk and security, and function as discursive horizons on which an array of propagandistic vistas can be fashioned. Such partisan conceptions tend to overemphasize the technology’s disciplinary influence and to fetishize its role in crime reduction and public safety. CCTV camera initiatives are also a tokenistic reminder, at least in the public imaginary, that the state is actively engaged in addressing both the fear and actuality of criminality.

The above analysis demonstrates that surveillance technologies are much more than mere technical-material structures. It shows, in contrast, that they are also social enterprises. Although surveillance assemblages emerge as a result of political economic rationalities and comprise technical components, their everyday operational vitality and verve is entirely dependent on a complex chain of social actors and relations. Considering the role of workers in the daily production of surveillance is, therefore, an important part of the story. This focus permits us to discern the exploitative dimensions of policing reality, the artful practices comprising the operational life-world and the changing configuration of policing praxis.

Surveillance workers tend to occupy a privileged symbolic position, wielding discretionary interpretive powers and an anonymous and asymmetrical gaze. Recent research on the topic of surveillance work(ers) has illustrated (a) the extent to which such laborers impose their own definitional criteria upon that which is observed and (b) the consequences for those who are involuntarily exposed. Norris and Armstrong’s (1999) ethnographic study of several CCTV control rooms in the UK is an illustrative example. The two scholars sought to establish the interpretive frameworks or “working rules” – effectively, subjective schemata – operators drew upon to determine camera positioning. The researchers show that suspicion is not an innate or discernible behavioral quality but is rather the outcome of social construction processes. It was racist, sexist, fascist, and classist ideologies that largely determined where and at whom cameras were pointed, the operators predominantly associating criminality with young males, minority groups, and underprivileged populations, specifically those not explicitly engaged in legitimized forms of consumption. These findings emphasize the categorical or labeling power surveillance workers exercise both in the arrangement of social reality and in concomitant decision-making protocol.

Another way of comprehending the social dimensions of surveillance work has been developed by Smith (see 2007, 2009, 2013). He found camera operators to be active consumers of social reality, attaching anecdotal stories to the mediated events encountered. The surveillance workers’ musings comprised a mix of imagination and memory, and this creative interchange between the fictional and the real helped foster a set of ritualized occupational customs that made the trying work of watching a more pedagogically meaningful and pleasurable activity. It is easy to imagine and perceive “the gaze” projected by surveillance workers as inevitably embodying disciplinary properties and to assume watching practices as invariably empowering, rewarding and seductive. Yet surveillance work is ambiguous. It comprises important affective and exploitative components. Cameras operators, for example, are required to search for and identify events threatening a desired normative order and, as such, recurrently confront graphic scenes depicting social disorder and human suffering. They must dispassionately film people attempting suicide, injecting drugs, committing robbery, and being viciously assaulted. As a result of the labor that they practice and the traumatic spectacles to which they are habitually exposed, camera operators come to perceive the social world around them as chaotic, precarious, and dangerous. Being routinely subjected to mediated scenes of distress distils in such laborers a distinctive set of pathological beliefs about human conduct and relations, such values reorientating their everyday engagements with the world (Smith 2013).

A sequence of coping strategies are drawn upon by camera operators to manage their general estrangement both from the commodity that they are trying to produce (i.e., social order and its inherent fragility) and from the manufacturing process more generally (i.e., system technologies and occupational conditions). Cameras, for example, are used informally by operators in an attempt to escape, albeit temporarily, from the stresses and tensions associated with witnessing behavioral transgressions and social disarray. Nature becomes an attractive focal point. Its structural stability and intrinsic grace, as represented in dew-covered spider webs, cumulus cloudscapes, and majestic sunrises, helps operators reestablish a sense of trust and coherency in a world that so often appears fractured and anarchic. Thus, the same technologies fuelling the operators’ general malaise with, and alienation from, social reality, also facilitate transcendental pursuits, in this case, identification of the natural order’s aesthetical mechanics, internal consistency and harmonic patterns. Camera operators also partake in individualized and collective forms of emotional management. The application of black humor, bullying, and sensory detachment – and exploiting camera optics for voyeuristic ends, for instance – allows potentially pathological (and health degenerative) feelings to be channeled and mitigated (and to be projected onto external others).

Surveillance workers are situated within and stratified according to wider occupational hierarchies. They are increasingly embroiled in struggles over camera positioning/control and continually receive quasi indictments requiring them to publicly defend their productions in law courts (Smith 2009). Moreover, research by Goold (2004) and by Newburn and Hayman (2002) has shown how the introduction of CCTV into the public sphere and the custody suite has increased the visibility of policing practices and placed novel accountability pressures on law enforcement officers – and generated corresponding occupational dilemmas for camera operators. Despite the fact that CCTV networks are supposed to support the police in their pursuit of occupational goals, it is often the case that such systems challenge traditional structures in the police’s occupational culture, particularly their monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. The routine exposure of policing practices has been further facilitated by the mass diffusion of portable capturing devices and by global circulations of information, especially as facilitated by Internet platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.

Future Directions

This research paper has considered how emerging cultures of visibility transform the concept and practice of policing. In particular, the proliferation of surveillance devices into organizational circuitry and cultural canals has been shown to diversify the nature and meaning of policing. Institutions are becoming as much “the watched” as “the watchers.” The same can be said of individuals. People embrace surveillance platforms to derive knowledge about social phenomena, to speed up their worldly transactions, and to be entertained. As such, persons increasingly find themselves experiencing surveillance regimes as both exposed “subjects” and contributory “agents.” It would seem that, for many, scopophilia has become a seductive practice and voluntary disclosure a desirable state of being.

A plurality of conditions account for these transformations, and more research need examine the political economies, rationalities, and imaginaries underpinning the design and construction of surveillance technologies and attendant product marketing. Research on how different social groups understand, negotiate, and partake in surveillance activities is also required. Further criminological research, therefore, must excavate the nuances associated with surveillance “work,” specifically how the introduction of computerized algorithms to autonomously determine patterns of causality in social reality – and to dispose specific interventions – demands a critical rethinking of how contemporary policing is increasingly performed. Today’s world is defined by the visibility of particular social flows and the corresponding invisibility of general surveillance processes. The latent nature of computer processing and the overvaluing of technology means that power and domination are becoming harder processes to empirically locate, discern, follow, and – importantly – hold to account. If criminology is to remain analytically relevant to the rapidly evolving structures of social regulation, it must innovate methodologically and epistemologically, particularly appropriating knowledge and tools from quantum physics, mathematics and computing sciences. Policing now operates through informatic circuits, and it is to a better understanding of these cybernetic territories as distinctive “fields of power” that criminologists increasingly need focus their energies.


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  28. Zureik E, Lyon D, Abu-Laban Y (eds) (2011) Surveillance and control in Israel/Palestine: population, territory and power. Taylor–Francis, Abingdon

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