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Invisibility Studies

Surveillance, Transparency and the Hidden in Contemporary Culture


Henriette Steiner and Kristin Veel

Invisibility Studies explores current changes in the relationship between what we consider visible and what invisible in different areas of contemporary culture. Contributions trace how these changes make their marks on various cultural fields and investigate the cultural significance of these developments, such as transparency and privacy in urban architecture and the silent invasion of surveillance technologies into everyday life. The book contends that when it comes to the changing relationship of the visible and the invisible, the connection between seeing and not being seen is an exchange conditioned by physical and social settings that create certain possibilities for visibility and visuality, yet exclude others. The richness and complexity of this cultural framework means that no single discipline or interdisciplinary approach could capture it single-handedly. Invisibility Studies begins this conversation by bringing together scholars across the fields of architectural history and theory, art, film and literature, philosophy, cultural theory and contemporary anthropology as well as featuring work by a collective of artists.
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Negotiating (In)Visibilities in Contemporary Culture: A Short Introduction


The highly debated yet oft-repeated dictum ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’ is usually used as an argument for accepting increased surveillance. But it raises fundamental questions about what privacy actually entails in a society that, with the proliferation of ubiquitous computing seeping into every corner of our everyday lives, challenges existing perceptions of human subjectivity and the place of the individual in the world. Occasionally, new revelations – such as the exposure of global surveillance programs by former NSA employee Edward Snowden and, before that, the persistent rumours about the existence of a signals intelligence collection and analysis network by the name of Echelon – reveal snippets of the technological capacities available for those who want to find out about the lives of others through state-of-the-art surveillance technologies. However, the response to such revelations seems divided. While some people react strongly and demand political intervention, the reaction of many citizens rather seems to be a shrug, implying that ‘when the technology exists, this is to be expected’.1 In this book, we propose that the widespread, existence and acceptance of the increasingly ubiquitous, and often unnoticed, surveillance technologies in our daily lives is one example of processes of negotiation that take place in contemporary culture on a wider scale: processes that are indicative of changes taking place in the relationship between what is considered visible and what is invisible – between what remains hidden and what comes to the surface – in contemporary culture. The existence of...

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