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Invisibility Studies

Surveillance, Transparency and the Hidden in Contemporary Culture


Edited By 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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15 The Invisibilities of Internet Censorship


Digital Censorship

The emergence of new forms of censorship is the dark side of the digital revolution.1 While digitisation has revolutionised communication, it has also facilitated escalations in both surveillance and censorship practices.2 The use of filtering software has thus become a common response both to controversial online content such as pornography, violence and hate speech, as well as to less obviously problematic content, in particular if this is judged as a threat to established norms.3

In a certain sense, digital censorship resembles traditional political and religious forms of censorship. This is not surprising since the word ‘revolution’, if we understand the term etymologically, must entail a sense of circularity.4 Yet digital technology also has distinguishing features that set it apart from all previous socio-technological inventions. It has therefore enabled the dramatic inversion of cultural, political and legal infrastructures, which in turn has created a ‘cultural lag’ between censorship as cultural-legal concept and socio-technological practice. This chapter shows how current epistemological concepts of censorship and the legislative frameworks that protect citizens against censorship are challenged by new, and often opaque, digital censorship assemblages.

Invisible Infrastructures

Understanding how digital censorship practices work, and how they differ from traditional forms of censorship, necessitates an examination of the infrastructures of digital censorship. Infrastructures is here understood to encompass both basic physical and organisational structures and more abstract entities such as protocols (human and computer) and standards.5

While the impact of infrastructures...

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