Surveillance now is ubiquitous—each of us is decomposed along multiple axes into discrete data points, and then recomposed on screens and in combinatory algorithms that organize our life chances. Such surveillance is directly screened in popular culture, however, quite rarely. It is hard to see ubiquitous surveillance, and the harder something powerful is to see, the more powerful it tends to be. The essays of this Screen Shot offer perspective on various concrete instances of contemporary surveillance, both ubiquitous and granular, and in so doing offer tools for negotiating its suffusive presence in and organization of our lives.
Ira J. Allen
Damien Smith Pfister
In the wake of the mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, the Trump Administration floated the creation of a new governmental agency named HARPA, the Health Advanced Research Projects Agency, modeled after DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, that could explore novel ways of curtailing gun violence. For an administration unwilling to entertain serious legislation to address the problem of gun violence in the United States, HARPA offered a way to appear to be doing something about gun violence. HARPA, advocates maintained, could house a project called SAFEHOME, an acronym for “Stopping Aberrant Events by Helping Overcome Mental Extremes.” SAFEHOME would use “breakthrough technologies with high specificity and sensitivity for early diagnosis of neuropsychiatric violence”; the proposal would draw on data from Apple Watches, Fitbits, Amazon Echo, and Google Home to predict when someone might be on the cusp of mass violence (Alemany 2019). The guiding assumption of SAFEHOME is that surveillance of this biophysical data, combined with extant surveillance of textual messaging, search patterns, social networking sites, and discussion boards would alert law enforcement officials to a prospective shooter. Think Minority Report (2002, Steven Spielberg) with digital surveillance technology playing the role of psychic precogs. SAFEHOME is probably (hopefully) a nonstarter in serious conversations about gun violence, given the tenuous link between mental health, physical disposition, and violence; the inevitability of data-profiling being articulated to minoritized subjects and false positives (imagine the first time SAFEHOME flags a SWAT team on someone having sex) and obvious concerns about such an invasive surveillance regime. But the very fact that a program like SAFEHOME is posed as a potentially credible solution points to a dimension of surveillance that complements this forum’s discussion of ubiquity: granularity.
Laura A. Sparks
Relying on select US government Torture Memos, this article develops the term “surveillance time” to highlight the ways in which surveillance practices, in this case within the material confines of post-9/11 detention centers, come to threaten humans’ subjectivities through temporal disruption and manipulation. While surveillance has lately been understood in digital terms, such as in corporations’ data-mining practices and in technologies like facial-recognition software, we should not neglect its material, embodied dimensions. Surveillance time ultimately asks us to reconsider how monitoring and information-harvesting practices blur the boundaries between human bodies and data. Attention to the relationship between torture and surveillance also opens up new possibilities for understanding the now-ubiquitous monitoring strategies integrated into everyday life.
The origin story is an important element for any superhero/villain, as it provides context for a character’s seemingly out-of-this-world abilities. A radioactive spider bit Spiderman, and the Penguin was bullied in his youth. It can also be beneficial for surveillance scholars, inasmuch as it provides context for a once invisible but superhuman body of digital information that circulates as a proxy for us in digital milieus. This body is best understood through contemporary surveillance practices, yet metaphors of the panopticon and George Orwell’s 1984 proliferate in the surveillant imagination. I argue here that mapping an origin story onto a view of our data as a superhuman body not only creates a tangible representation of surveillance, but it also emphasizes and animates alternative surveillance theories useful for circulation in the surveillant imagination.
Video Visitation as a Form of Surveillance Technology and Its Effect on Incarcerated Motherhood
This article argues that the implementation of video visitation in correctional facilities is a mechanism of control used to enact punitive measures for regulating mothers who act outside the dominant paradigms of motherhood. Because prisons were designed to surveil and mothers have historically been surveilled by institutions, incarcerated mothers are often overlooked when we discuss the surveillance methods used to keep institutionalized motherhood intact. This article builds on existing scholarship characterizing surveillance technology’s role in criminalizing poor mothers of color, and considers the ways in which surveillance technology is used to normalize these mothers during their incarceration. Applying a Foucauldian framework, this article explores how adapting Video Visitation (VV)—a Skype-like video chat program—enables correctional facilities to extend the role of “watcher” and expand the panoptic gaze, which prompts mother-to-mother surveillance and intensifies self-surveillance. The article concludes by drawing attention to VV’s structure and its ability to expand correctional facilities’ surveillance to the children of incarcerated mothers.
(Re)imagining Immigration Narratives and Surveillance Practices by Experiencing "Use of Force"
This article introduces the concept of “pseudo-sousveillance” as simulated sousveillance practices created by the sensory environments of immersive technologies. To advance this concept, I analyze the virtual reality (VR) experience “Use of Force” that immerses participants within the scene of the night during which immigrant Anastasio Hernandez Rojas was beaten by border patrol officers at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. I argue that the pseudo-sousveillance practices of cellphone recording and surveillance from above enlist users to be active participants in resisting dominant surveillance practices by constructing alternative narratives about immigrant experiences, exposing the overreach of the border patrol, and revealing the limits of surveillance in immigration control. I then discuss the implications that pseudo-sousveillance has for rethinking the rhetorical power of emerging technologies and sousveillance in a surveillant age.
This is a special issue on surveilled bodies, with five articles guest edited by Ira Allen, Assistant Professor of Rhetoric, Writing, and Digital Media Studies at Northern Arizona University and Assistant Editor of Screen Bodies. The question here is one of how screens and bodies are brought together through surveillance (visual and otherwise), how surveillance hails the body to attend to it (beckons us to catch a glimpse of here or there) even as it hides itself from the body, working to be noticed yet remaining unnoticed, in order to keep us “on our toes.” In this light, surveillance is not only about investigating, examining, logging, and controlling the body but also about bringing the body into being as a body-to-be-surveilled, about interpolating the body into becoming evermore surveillable in ever-more granular ways.
Metric and Narrative Identities in Dataveillant Art Practice
In a society suffused with surveillance technologies and practices, which persist in their extension across and into all dimensions of human experience, members of the contemporary art community have made significant contributions to the ontology of the surveillant self. This article compares recent works by several prominent multimedia artists who have explored the radical potential of dataveillance as a way to bridge the disconnect between quantitative (metric) and qualitative (narrative) representations of self in the Information Age. By considering the questions raised by three recent art projects—Hasan Elahi’s Tracking Transience; Jill Magid’s Composite; Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s Stranger Visions—I explore how each artist employs a surveillant aesthetic to test the extent to which meaningful subjectivities may be constructed out of decontextualized metric data. In this way, these artists are directly engaging with the surveillant assemblage, harnessing the discrete flows of data that normally work to depersonalize and thereby negate individual identities, and instead repurposing these disassembled metrics as a means of examining modern selfhood as it both produces and is produced by surveillance environments. In particular, this article focuses on the tension between metric and narrative representations of self, by drawing on multimedia artistic projects that engage with and combine both aspects and document their efforts in a range of visual and textual media.
Andrew J. Ball
“Screening Indigenous Bodies” (4.1) and was followed by our issue on “Screening Surveillance” (4.2). In the current “Screen Shot,” edited by Wibke Straube of the Centre for Gender Studies, Karlstad University, our authors address the critically relevant topic
. Optography was imagined as an extension of this disciplinary power, as it could be used not only to identify criminals after an arrest but also to apprehend criminals who were still at large by transforming the eyes of their victims into surveillance cameras