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Surveillance | Society | Culture

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Edited By Florian Zappe and Andrew S. Gross

What only a few decades ago would have been considered a totalitarian nightmare seems to have become reality: Surveillance practices and technologies have infiltrated all aspects of our lives, forcing us to reconsider established notions of privacy, subjectivity, and the status of the individual in society. The United States is central to contemporary concerns about surveillance. American companies are at the forefront of developing surveillance technologies; and government agencies, in the name of security and law and order, are monitoring our words and actions more than ever before. This book brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars to explore the implications of what many consider to be a far-reaching social, political, and cultural transformation.

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Too Much Information: Self-Monitoring and Confessional Culture

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Abstract: Driven by a desire to be seen, the contemporary knack for self-exposure and self-surveillance raises interesting questions regarding the changing notions of privacy, the economics of confessional culture, and their ramifications for constructions of the self in both the public and private sphere. In the wake of the NSA scandal, the proliferation of surveillance technologies, and the accumulation of ‘big data,’ Americans’ privacy is deemed under attack. Cultural critics, however, did not fail to notice peoples’ inclination to forgo reticence in favor of voluntary self-monitoring and public self-exposure, divulging intimate details on talk shows, reality television, and social media. Taking into account both Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of “confessional culture” – a culture that values and demands self-surveillance and public confession – and Foucault’s notion of confession as a disciplinary technique, this essay explores contemporary practices of self-surveillance and ‘the obligation to confess’ in American culture and society. Arguing that the proliferation of confessional culture is not a symptom of a society that disregards privacy, I will probe historical (dis)continuities of confessional culture, and discuss the implications of several of its manifestations against the background of ever-present proclamations of the “death of privacy.” Rejecting to read public performances of intimacy as a devaluation of the private sphere, I will question whether people acting as their own PR agents on television and social media may indeed exercise control over their personal lives, possibly even enhancing and consolidating privacy in the act of confession.

Keywords: Privacy, confessional culture,...

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