Surveillance vs. Social Control

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Surveillance versus social control
the necessity of the panoptic mechanism in modern society

We live in a society that becomes more individualistic every day. The collective feeling decreases and the gap between civilians and state grows. At the same time, due to the increasing amount of uncertainties people have to deal with, fear and angst have gain terrain in peoples behaviour. People feel less safe in their own environment and the need for security increases. To increase the security in public spaces in the United Kingdom, many CCTV cameras have been placed throughout the country, resulting in a staggering 4.2 million cameras overlooking the civilians’ behaviour in 2006. A number which the East German “Stasi” would be very jealous of. The idea of such ‘supersurveillance’ raised a big debate, since research pointed out that per 1000 cameras, only one crime was solved, and people could not walk anywhere without being seen. Over the last decade, this tendency also reached the Netherlands. Our local and national authorities have taken many measurements as well to increase control on behaviour of people through surveillance and social control; more police officers are surveilling the streets; CCTV cameras are placed in popular (nightlife) districts; since 2008 they are implementing the “Burgernet” program in over 50 cities across the country and counting; a telephone line has launched s where people can tip the police anonymously; and the government even launched an advertising campaign in 2011, named: “ grab your camera, catch the offender” (Dutch:“Pak de overvaller, pak je camera.”) in which it summons civilians to use their digital cameras or mobile phones to capture images of people committing a possible crime. The government clearly intensifies the surveillance, and tries to intensify the social control. The idea of total surveillance is a frightening thought, like the constant presence of “Big brother” in George Orwell’s 1984, emphasised by the phrase “Big Brother is watching you” underneath every poster or image of the Party’s leader. I personally am terrified by the idea of being monitored constantly, with disciplinary consequences for my actions and not having the power to act freely. The opposite is true for the concept of social control. The concept of social control does not scare me at all. In design studio projects social control is often used by students as a design tool to prevent unsafe places from existing in the designed buildings. Another example is the “Burgernet” initiative, which is mentioned earlier, in which civilians are summoned through text-message alerts on mobile phones to help the police solve crimes, through civilian surveillance. Since its first implication in 2008 it has proven to be a very helpful tool, and since this month, the system has been launched in our capitol Amsterdam. Apparently, social control, in which civilians are willing to co-operate, is often seen something positive, while surveillance, practiced by authorities or private parties, could be seen as something negative. My personal interest lays in how these mechanisms of power work. How can power be practiced through surveillance? And what is the difference between surveillance and social control? And how is it then possible that social control is accepted, while surveillance by authorities raises aversion? To gain knowledge of these power technologies, we will investigate the Panopticon design by British philosopher Jeremy Bentham as the “simple architectural idea” that was of great influence on de development of the discipline society we live in, which is described by the french philosopher Michel Foucault in his theory of Panopticism. We will investigate how this model relates to modern surveillance and social control.

The tendency of individualising society or the amount of measurements taken, will not be discussed ins this essay, neither will we discuss the cause of the growing need for security nor the...
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