The politics of surveillance: big brother on prozac

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This paper explores the rise of CCTV in society during the last two decades. It concentrates on state sponsored surveillance schemes in an attempt to answer the question of why it is that CCTV surveillance emerged at this particular point in history. At one level, advancing technology can allow a ‘surveillance society’ to emerge, yet the extent to which CCTV cameras have spread into city centres and residential areas suggests something more profound has changed in ‘public’ life. The exponential rise in the surveillance of society is often understood to reflect the rise of authoritarianism, perhaps particularly in the UK. Whether from a Weberian, a Foucauldian, or even – and perhaps in particular – a neo-Marxist perspective, this development is often understood as an enforcement of power, resulting from an ideological consensus built around ‘rampant’ neo-liberalism; public life is, in part, understood to be undermined by private interests, the power of capital, or techniques of governance associated to one degree or another with neo-liberalism. In this paper, the neo-liberal framework for understanding the rise of surveillance is questioned. Building upon arguments by Baudrillard, Lasch, Bauman and Furedi it is argued that, rather than an aggressive and purposeful moral or neo-liberal authoritarianism lying behind the rise of surveillance cameras the opposite is in fact the case. The diminution of ‘public’ space both reflects and represents the decline of political purpose and meaning within society and especially within the political elite.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-84
Number of pages24
JournalSurveillance & Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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