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Living in the control society: Surveillance, users and digital screen technologies

Best, K. (2010) Living in the control society: Surveillance, users and digital screen technologies. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 13 (1). pp. 5-24.

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Despite growing political and academic interest in increases in surveillance brought about by digital technology, users of these technologies themselves appear to remain relatively unconcerned with surveillance, accepting the trade-off of greater usability for decreased control. This article interrogates the contradiction between people's professed opinions and their actual behaviours, and the contradiction between public and academic discourse and people's everyday disregard. It does so by comparing a theoretical model currently in common use for analysing surveillance, focused around a Deleuzian conception of 'control society', with users' own perceptions about the relative harm of surveillance, using data drawn from a qualitative study. In this enterprise, the study seeks to advance David Lyon's call to understand whether and how users actually consent to surveillance in their everyday lives. The study finds two main points of difference and one point of commonality between control society analyses of surveillance and users' own perceptions and experiences of being surveilled. Whereas a control society analysis points to the increasingly simulated quality of much of the data being generated about 'dividuals', users themselves hold onto notions about the truth and reliability of that information. Whereas a control society analysis conceptualizes surveillance in terms of postmodern forms of control which are dispersed, slippery and leak into everyday practice, users profess an ability to target surveillance attempts within specific spaces and attached to particular information domains. Control society analyses and user experiences of surveillance do converge, however, around the third tenet emerging from this scholarship: the notion of participatory surveillance, and how consent is currently operationalized.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Media, Communication and Culture
Publisher: Sage Publications
Copyright: © The Author, 2010.
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