Surveillance, Transparency and the Hidden in Contemporary Culture
Edited By Henriette Steiner and Kristin Veel
14 Vanishing Surveillance: Ghost-Hunting in the Ubiquitous Surveillance Society
The twenty-first century is seeing a rapid transformation of our societies into pervasive or ambient ubiquitous surveillance societies. Ubiquitous surveillance (‘ubisurv’) depends on ‘ubiquitous computing (‘ubicomp’). The gradual infiltration of computing and communications devices into increasingly mundane objects, structures and living things, is one of the key technological enablers of ubiquitous surveillance.
There are many individual technological developments one could give as examples, from geodemographic and geolocation systems to the complex augmented reality environments created by artists. However, surveillance becoming ubiquitous is not simply the proliferation of intensely but narrowly seeing ‘oligoptica’;2 it is also a question of the way in which surveillance is less obvious even as it increases: surveillance is vanishing.
This chapter argues that the increasing ubiquity of technologies of visibility, coupled with the vanishing of the technologies themselves, represents a change in the place of the visual in Western culture, and with it, ← 281 | 282 → challenges to knowledge and politics. In the modern period, the visual gradually assumed a central and privileged place, and the idea that understanding something is secondary to its viewing became dominant.3 As modern subjects, we are acculturated into this sense that vision matters, that seeing something is the prelude to grasping its meaning, and hence to constructing a politics.
As Danius remarks, following Jonathan Crary,4 ‘the model of vision that modernism deploys, whether implicitly or explicitly, takes as its point of departure the immanence of the individual body, not the...
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