Experiencing Surveillance A Phenomenological Approach by kala22


									Experiencing Surveillance: A Phenomenological Approach

                    Norm Friesen
              School of Communication
               Simon Fraser University
           HC 3520-515 West Hastings Street
              Vancouver, BC V6B 5K3

                     Grace Chung
               School of Communication
                Simon Fraser University
                 #23-1122 Haro Street
               Vancouver, BC V6E 1E1

                  Andrew Feenberg
              School of Communication
               Simon Fraser University
           HC 3598-515 West Hastings Street
              Vancouver, BC V6B 5K3
Experiencing Surveillance: A Phenomenological Approach


       The near-ubiquity of surveillance and dataveillance technologies in public and
       other spaces (airports, workplaces, supermarkets, bank lobbies) and their
       networking via the Internet has recently given rise to doubts about the totalizing,
       panoptic discipline and control frequently of these technologies. If these pervasive
       technologies are as "panoptic" as the theories derived from Foucault's classic
       work suggest, would this not render everyday life as totally controlled as the cells
       in Bentham's prison? In the wake of this and other kinds of questioning of the
       Foucauldian approach, new ways of conceptualizing both surveillance and the
       observed subject are coming to light. This paper takes this post-panoptic
       questioning further by utilizing the theory and method of phenomenology to study
       the everyday experiential reality of surveillance and dataveillence, with special
       emphasis on networked and digital technologies. This approach, little utilized in
       surveillance studies, addresses under-theorized questions of individual experience
       of surveillance. Perhaps surprisingly, such a study appears to reinforce Foucault's
       original panoptic articulation much more directly than do more recent models and
       conceptions of surveillant regimes. But at the same time, it raises new questions
       regarding the role of the body and of attention in surveillance and dataveillance --
       and of potential resistance to these technologies and practices.

Introduction: Beyond the Panopticon?
        A salient feature of contemporary society is the proliferation of the technologies
and practices of surveillance --from nannycams to Web browser "cookies" to automated
biometric scanning. The increasing ubiquity and invisibility of these practices and
technologies has the effect of elevating the importance and urgency of understandings of
surveillance, and simultaneously, of undermining these same understandings. For
example, the freedom of the felon in the panoptic prison is certainly highly constrained,
but can we understand our own agency as similarly restricted by the equally elaborate
regimes of surveillance --virtual panoptica-- that surround us? While shopping, banking
or working (online or off), our behaviour may indeed be carefully structured and recorded
in our roles as consumers and "knowledge workers;" but is this also the case, for
example, in houses and apartments, where motion detectors and entry cameras have
become commonplace? Are we similarly constrained as we write this paper, with
Webcams perched above our monitors?
        Some of the challenges presented by the manifold and ubiquitous nature of
surveillance are addressed by recent, post-panoptic theories of surveillance --including
notions of surveillant assemblages, synopticism, and of new somatic ontologies
associated with biometric dataveillance. Indeed, surveillance studies as a whole can be
said to have been gradually moving from a centralized panoptic model to a more
decentralized assemblage or network model; from Orwell's 1984 and the Foucauldian-
Benthamite panopticon, to notions of network and code, and electronic proliferations and
flows. Still, many theories appear to occupy a position somewhere between these two

       No one agency is behind this focused attention to our daily lives. Modernist
       centralized panoptic control is not so much in question as polycentric networks of
       surveillance, within which personal data flow fairly freely… [Regardless, the]
       idolatrous dream of omniperception embodied in the panopticon is present in
       contemporary surveillance. This is the minacious twinkle in the electronic eye.
       (Lyon, 2001: 146-147).

        The ambivalence in this characterization is pronounced: On the one hand, studies
of surveillance are anxious to distance themselves from the overused metaphor of the
panopticon. Surveillance is no longer understandable in terms of the model of a single
privileged, panoptic point of observation, but has instead been distributed or realized
endogenously over the whole surface of the social body. On the other hand, the outcome
of complex systems of contemporary surveillance represent an intensification of the
panoptic gaze, presumably, then, with controlling social effects similar to those Foucault
        What are those effects? Foucault's theory of surveillance is two-sided. He was
interested in the institutions and practices of surveillance, of course, but his goal was not
so much to describe them as to understand their subject-generating effects. Foucault's
ultimate question was how the modern subject is produced, and he thought surveillance
played an important role in that process. Unfortunately, precisely the issue of the
experiential reality of surveillance is undertheorized in Foucault's writings on
surveillance. At the time he was most interested in surveillance he was also in full flight
from phenomenology, existentialism, and the general "philosophy of consciousness" with
which he might have produced an account of living with surveillance in its everyday
        Contemporary surveillance studies has not filled in this lacuna in Foucault's work.
Instead, like Foucault, researchers in this area have focused on institutions and practices
of surveillance, and on their controlling effects. In this article, we will return to the
overlooked question of the shaping of modern subjective experience in its relation to
surveillance. We are not engaged in the polemics of Foucault's generation of French
intellectuals for or against phenomenology and existentialism. Instead, we affirm the
considerable heuristic value of phenomenology as a means of studying the subjectivity
said to be produced through social and institutional structures and practices. Our
preliminary application of phenomenology to surveillance underscores and reveals four
things: 1) The importance of interpellated or self-imposed constraints in the function of
surveillance in our everyday lives; 2) the role of the objectified body, and of the physical
and recorded traces of its presence; 3) the confirmation of a number of Foucault's ideas
regarding surveillance, but with them, 4) a highlighting of the otherwise
underemphasized role of agency in surveillant regimes.

Contemporary Surveillance Studies

      In describing one particular post-panoptic conceptualization of surveillance,
Haggerty and Ericson give clear expression to the contemporary unease with the
Foucauldian paradigm:

        Foucault fails to engage contemporary developments in surveillance technology,
        focusing instead on transformations to eighteenth and nineteenth century total
        institutions… Even authors predisposed to embrace many of Foucault's insights
        believe that rapid technological developments, particularly the rise of
        computerized databases, require us to rethink the panoptic metaphor (2000: 607).
        As a successor to Foucaults panopticon, Haggerty and Ericson propose the
"surveillant assemblage" --a term which foregrounds the convergence of the
heterogeneous elements constitutive of surveillant practices and networked digital
technologies. Corresponding to the near total penetration of surveillant practices and
networked digital technologies in our lives, these assemblages are said to be composed of
"discrete data flows of an essentially limitless range of other phenomena such as people,
signs, chemicals, knowledge and institutions" (Haggerty and Ericson, 2000: 608). They
        operate by abstracting human bodies from their territorial settings and separating
        them into a series of discrete flows. These flows are then reassembled into distinct
        'data doubles' which can be scrutinized and targeted for intervention. In the
        process, we are witnessing a rhizomatic leveling of the hierarchy of surveillance,
        such that groups which were previously exempt from routine surveillance are now
        increasingly being monitored (Haggerty and Ericson, 2000: 606).

Bodies and identities, as Haggarty and Ericson would have it, are reconstituted in
contemporary surveillant regimes in the form of "data doubles:" a mirroring of their
activities and qualities down to the finest detail. This notion of informational
doppelgängers will be singled out for special attention later in this paper's
phenomenological analyses.
         Mathiesen proposes a similar, fundamental revision or more accurately,
augmentation, of Foucault's panoptic model. In his essay on "The Viewer Society,"
Mathiesen claims that Foucault's account of surveillance overlooks a
         process of great significance which has occurred simultaneously and at an equally
         accelerated rate: the mass media, and especially television, which today bring the
         many - literally hundreds of millions of people at the same time - with great force
         to see and admire the few. In contrast to Foucault's panoptical process, the latter
         process is referred to as synoptical. Together, the processes situate us in a viewer
         society in a two-way and double sense" (Mathiesen, 1997: 215).

        Mathiesen argues that current circumstances necessitate a doubling and reversal
of the specular structure of the panopticon. Instead of just the few observing the many, he
explains that through the mass media, "the many have been enabled to see the few - to
see the VIPs, the reporters, the stars, almost a new class in the public sphere" (Mathiesen,
1997: 219). The end result is a surveillant regime in which control is achieved by
mechanisms both panoptic and synoptic in nature "…the panoptical and synoptical
structures show several conspicuous parallels in development, and they together,
precisely together, serve decisive control functions in modern society" (Mathiesen, 1997:
        A third, albeit less explicit reformulation of the Foucauldian paradigm is provided
in van der Ploeg's recent discussion of biometrics and the body. Like Mathiesen and
Haggerty and Ericson, van der Ploeg sees a reconfiguration of the panoptic as

necessitated by ongoing developments in surveillance and dataveillance technologies and
practices. Her emphasis, however, is on biometric and digital technologies of corporeal
tracking and control. She beings with the "observation that many spheres of activity, the
generation, collection and processing of body data is increasing" (van der Ploeg, 2003;
57). This is followed by a familiar call to bring current theoretical frameworks up-to-date
with current surveillant practices and technologies:
         I argue that in order to make sense of the normative and socio-political
         implications of this phenomenon, we may need to let go of the idea that this
         merely concerns the collection of yet another type of personal information…. We
         may need to consider how the translation of aspects of our physical existence into
         digital code and "information," and the new uses of bodies this subsequently
         allows, amounts to a change on the level of ontology, instead of merely that of
         representation.(van der Ploeg, 2003; 59)
         van der Ploeg takes Haggarty and Ericson's position one step further: not content
to argue that current regimes of surveillance result in doubling of the self on the level of
representation, she suggests that it leads to a change the ontological and even corporeal
reality of the self. This gives rise to an "inability to distinguish between 'the body itself'
and 'body information'" (van der Ploeg, 2003; 69).
         To summarize, the theoretical constructions of Mathiesen, Haggerty and Ericson,
and van der Ploeg present a range of variations on and adaptations of Foucault's panoptic
paradigm. Its specular structure is first doubled and then reversed in Mathiesen's
description of the synoptic. The panoptic is subsequently decentralized and rendered
rhizomatic and endogenous in Haggarty and Ericson's notions of rhizomatic surveillant
assemblages and data doubles. Finally, this is taken one step further in van der Ploeg,
who asserts that the informaticized proliferation and doubling of the body undermines the
boundaries and ontological status of the corporeal itself.
         In all of these constructions, it is the data double, assemblage and synoptic
structure that are the object of primary interest. Surveillance and control is explained
through an emphasis on functions, practices and structures that are impersonal and
ultimately institutional. The subject and subjectivity itself is seen as something that is
formed through such macro-social processes and functions -- subsumed to flows and
assemblages, or to specular or even ontological doubling. The self, furthermore, is
understood only in terms of unnamed actors who surviel and who are surveilled, and who
are reduced to the assemblages and informatic processes of proliferation and doubling.
As a result of this consistent emphasis on structure and process, on the macro- and
institutional, the dimensions of the subjective, experiential and quotidian are all but

Phenomenology of Surveillance
        In everyday experience, we engage in transactions, fill out forms, create online
profiles, pass through security checks, and participate in myriad other situations
involving surveillance and dataveillance. The vicissitudes of our everyday experience of
surveillant practices and technologies seem to reveal an ambivalent mix of freedom and
control, security and uncertainty. On the one hand, the Internet and other forms of data
transmission –coupled with cameras, databases and other technologies—present powerful
subject-generating structures and processes. It seems that there is little we can do to avoid

these. But at the same time, these factors do not uniformly produce the pathological
consequences evoked in analyses of surveillance. We are not, as a rule, rendered
clinically paranoid or catatonic by the overwhelming power of these mechanisms.
Examination of the structures and processes of our surveillant society should
consequently be complemented by consideration of the interiority of the correlated form
of subjectivity. For this, a return to a philosophy of consciousness is necessary.
        Such a return, however, implies a significant shift --some have termed it a
"Copernican turn" (Husserl, 1937)-- in conceptual vocabulary, terms of reference and
methodology. This is a shift to the vocabulary of the phenomenology rejected
programmatically by Foucault. In this paper, we will utilize it not in its synthesizing
Hegelian form, or in its idealist Husserlian manifestation, but rather less ambitiously as a
methodology for gaining an understanding of the body, awareness and technology, as
they are embedded in the circumstances of everyday life.
        This philosophical position, as well as the outlines of a corresponding
methodology, is eloquently articulated by Merleau-Ponty in his introduction to The
Phenomenology of Perception.

       the life of consciousness --cognitive life, the life of desire or perceptual life-- is
       subtended by an 'intentional arc' which projects round about us our past, our
       future, our human setting, or physical, ideological and moral situation, or rather
       which results in our being situated in all these respects" (Merleau-Ponty, 1962:

         "Intentionality" refers to the projects, plans and activities that fill and structure
our everyday lives, and which similarly shape and orient our commonplace awareness of
the world around us. For Merleau-Ponty, intentionality is a kind of a priori which
connects the individual to the "lifeworld" around her, structuring interaction, purpose and
meaning as they arise in everyday activity. The goal of the phenomenological method, as
Merleau-Ponty explains, is to "loosen" this intentional shaping and structuring, to
"slacken the intentional threads which attach us to the world and thus [bring] them to our
notice…" (Merleau-Ponty, 1962: xiii). In other words, the methodological goal of
phenomenology is to make everyday activities and the meanings associated with them the
object of explicit consciousness and reflection. For by virtue of their very banality, these
activities and significances are otherwise per definitionem not the object of conscious
         Instead of categorization and explanation, this approach requires observation and
description, and even, at least at the outset, the explicit "bracketing" of theory and
analysis. As Merleau-Ponty puts it, "it is a matter of describing, not explaining or
analyzing" (Merleau-Ponty, 1962: viii). Instead of beginning with and articulating social
formations in their institutional, macro-level dimensions, this method has as its starting
point the intentional relationship that links the self to the world around it.
         The phenomenological method of investigation employed in this paper involves a
particular emphasis on textual description. Attention to the concrete, descriptive, and
(provisionally) pre-theoretical is most effectively realized through the development of
short narrative descriptions of incidents or anecdotes of everyday experiences (see van
Manen, 1990). These descriptions do not appeal to a notion of statistical

"representativeness" or generalizability. Instead, their validity derives from their being
recognizable and compelling to their readers on a concrete, experiential level. This is
accomplished through a process of writing and re-writing that bears some relationship to
fictional writing --which, after all, must also be compelling and believable to readers.
These accounts are initially developed through participation in and reflection on
experiences that one undergoes oneself, or that are "experienced" vicariously or
otherwise gleaned through unstructured interviews. One procedure among many that can
be used in this research is "guided existential reflection" (van Manen, 2001), in which the
researcher analyzes experience in terms of          From Sartre's "The Look"
four existential dimensions or themes: lived
space, lived time, the lived body, and lived        Let us imagine that moved by jealousy,
                                                    curiosity, or vice I have just glued my ear to
human relation (van Manen, 2001).                   the door and looked through a keyhole. I am
                                                     alone … behind that door a spectacle is
Sartre's "The Look"                                  presented as "to be seen," a conversation
                                                     as "to be heard." The door, the keyhole are
                                                     at once both instruments and obstacles;
         A well-known phenomenological               they are presented as ''to be handled with
description that serves as an example of such        care;" the keyhole is given as "to be looked
                                                     through close by and a little to one side,"
a concrete, quasi-fictional account--and that        etc. Hence from this moment "I do what I
provides a starting point for our                    have to do." No transcending view comes to
phenomenological investigation of                    confer upon my acts the character of a given
                                                     on which a judgment can be brought to
surveillance-- is provided by Jean-Paul Sartre       bear. My consciousness sticks to my acts, it
in his famous passage on "the look" in Being         is my acts; and my acts are commanded
and Nothingness. A short selection from this         only by the ends to be attained and by the
                                                     instruments to be employed. My attitude, for
passage is provided in the textbox on the            example, has no "outside"; it is a pure
right. The theoretical and interpretive content      process of relating the instrument (the
of this passage --while not always                   keyhole) to the end to be attained (the
exemplifying descriptive phenomenological            spectacle to be seen), a pure mode of losing
                                                     myself in the world, of causing myself to be
writing in its purest form-- presents an             drunk in by things as ink is by a blotter….
especially clear analysis of the situation of        […]
observer and observed.                               But all of a sudden I hear footsteps in the
                                                     hall. Someone is looking at me! What does
         Sartre begins his description with a        this mean? It means that I am suddenly
concrete and commonplace, albeit                     affected in my being and that essential
hypothetical, situation described from the           modifications appear in my
                                                     structure-modifications which I can
first person perspective of the actor ("I have       apprehend and fix conceptually by means of
just glued my ear to the door and looked             the reflective cogito. First of all, I now exist
                                                     as myself for my unreflective
through a keyhole. I am alone…" 1956: 259).          consciousness. It is this irruption of the self
This situation is, in a sense, a prototypical or     which has been most often described: I see
ideal-typical scenario of surveillance,              myself because somebody sees me-as it is
complete with the effacement or anonymity            usually expressed. (Sartre, 1956, pp. 259-
                                                     260; emphases in original)
of the observer from the perspective of the
observed that is characteristic of Bentham's
         The passage continues in a way that may at first appear unexpected: Sartre
characterizes the situation using verb phrases that are not uncommon in
phenomenological analysis: phenomena are presented as "to be heard" and "to be seen."
The door and keyhole are presented as "to be looked through close by and a little to one

side." The point is, as Sartre himself says, is to describe things not from an objective,
impartial view (as if from nowhere), but phenomenologically, as they are tied up in our
existence, projects and intentions: "No transcending view comes to confer upon my acts
the character of a given on which a judgment can be brought to bear" (Sartre, 1956: 259,
emphasis in original) From the perspective of the person who would be spying, that is
precisely how door and keyhole appear: not in terms of their physical dimensions or
material composition, but as something that can be looked through in a particular way, in
order to gain surreptitious access to what is said and done on the other side. But this
requires special care and stealth, and the keyhole (otherwise intended to receive a key)
requires of the onlooker a specific and telling kneeling or bending posture. Sartre
continues, arguing that in this solitary situation, his acts "are in no way known. [Instead] I
am my acts …I am a pure consciousness of things, and things, caught up in the circuit of
my selfness" (p. 259; emphasis in original).
        Sartre's point is not that this observing self exists in solipsistic isolation, but that
the self or consciousness is fully absorbed in the act of viewing, and in the object of its
gaze: "My attitude... has no 'outside'; it is a pure process of relating the instrument (the
keyhole) to the end to be attained (the spectacle to be seen), a pure mode of losing myself
in the world, of causing myself to be drunk in by things as ink is by a blotter..." (Sartre,
1956: 259). Lived space, in this instance, is constituted solely by the space or the world
observed through the keyhole. The lived body momentarily disappears, as the observer's
intentional or attentional focus is absorbed wholly in what he is seeing and hearing on the
other side. Lived relation is defined for a moment by the objectifying gaze of a hidden
and anonymous observer, and the people, actions or objects unknowingly observed on the
other side.
        In this "ideal type" of surveillance described by Sartre, then, the situation of the
observing consciousness is such that it is entirely directed outwards at the observed.
Additionally, through its position at the aperture of the keyhole, this observing self is able
to leverage a profound asymmetry that marks most situations of surveillance: Like an
observer using a Webcam or a closed-circuit monitor, its body and corporal presence is,
in a phenomenological sense, hidden or at least reduced to the (Web)camera itself –to the
minacious twinkle in the electronic eye, as Lyon puts it. The observer is able to view the
bodies and actions of those on the other side, while not being subjected to a similar,
reciprocal condition himself.
        But of course, this is only half of the story. Sartre begins to explore the other half
by introducing a compelling and extreme kind of "eidetic variation," as it is called in
phenomenology: A particular aspect of the circumstances constituting the scenario or the
larger "lifeworld" is changed in order to discover how it affects the configuration of
meanings, projects and objects, and their interrelationship in that world: "But all of a
sudden, I hear footsteps in the hall." By introducing the presence of an other who is able
to view the secretively observing self, Sartre is able to explore an entirely different
ontological modality. This is one that is in many ways opposed to but already implied in
the situation described earlier: "First of all, I now exist as myself for my unreflective
consciousness. It is irruption of the self which has been most often described [as follows]:
I see myself because somebody sees me" (Sartre, 1956: 260). The self, earlier absorbed in
the surreptitious observation of others, now becomes itself the object of observation.

         But being caught in the act of surreptitious surveillance is not a matter of
suddenly and simply "knowing" that someone is watching you. It is a, of course, change
in one's way of being. The self is changed from a subject to an object. It is no longer
absorbed by what is being viewed through the keyhole; it becomes less of a subject or a
consciousness, absorbed by the acts of others, and instead becomes an object, something
fixed in the gaze of another. It experiences itself as seen through the eyes of the person
who is viewing it. Lived space suddenly becomes the space of the hallway rather than the
space on the other side of the keyhole. Lived relation is now largely determined by the
objectifying gaze of a second observer. The lived body now becomes something of acute
awareness, again, as it is defined and objectified by the other's gaze.
         A further, significant aspect of the body --especially for surveillance-- is revealed
in Sartre's description. This aspect is indicated in what Feenberg has called the
"extended" body (Feenberg, 2006), and what Young has identified as an "ambiguous
transcendence" of the self over its corporeal materiality (Young, 1980,1998). This aspect
emerges from the objectification of the body in an other's gaze. It is registered by the
audible footsteps in the hall, and is (presumably) also present in the telling posture of the
body of the observer at the keyhole. It is, in other words, the material aspect of the body
that can be perceived (and objectified) by others, and that is "overlaid" on our bodies as
we carry out the intentional projects of our consciousness (Young, 1980). The audible
footsteps, and the posture at the keyhole, moreover, act as signals that go beyond the
body's physical boundaries: they are the results of bodily presence that indicate a
particular intention or consequence, but that are not tantamount to it, or acceptable as
sufficient proof of it: The observer at the keyhole may discover that the footsteps are
those of an unconcerned child or a blind person; from the perspective of the person
coming down the hall, the observer at the keyhole may well turn out to be a locksmith --
someone looking at the keyhole, rather than through it. The significance of these
extensions of the body, of this ambiguous transcendence --or of these objectified
corporeal signals, signs or traces-- is dependent on the circumstances surrounding them,
and can be interpreted variously. They do not precisely belong to our body and yet they
are indices of our bodily presence that track us and for which we are responsible: They
extend from the traces of DNA we shed as a natural organic function, to the automatic
registration of movements, transactions, logins and downloads that increasingly
accompany our everyday activities. It is in this sense that they form a kind of "extended
body" with which we may identify much as we identify with our clothes or car
(Feenberg, 2006). This aspect of the body and of the variable significance of the signs or
traces it emanates are of considerable importance for examinations of identity, biometrics
and dataveillance. These provide new avenues for identification and control, as well as
means for deception and resistance that will be further explored below.
         As indicated earlier, Sartre's description serves as a sort of prototypical or ideal-
typical situation. It describes the consciousness of the observer and observed in a
situation that is not implausible or extraordinary, but in a way that nonetheless heightens
the sense of the opposition of these positions of self and other. One can imagine elements
of such a situation being manifest in diffused form among the passengers on a bus or in a
crowded elevator, or where technologies of surveillance are involved, with someone
suddenly noticing the indicator light on a camcorder or a web cam.

The Bank Machine
To pursue our own phenomenological                       The Bank Machine

investigation further, we have developed a               As I enter the foyer where the bank
written description of an every day experience           machines are, I join the lineup of people and
of surveillance --that of using an ATM or bank           wonder how long it will take me to make my
                                                         withdrawal. As each person steps up to the
machine. This description uses a number of               bank machine and the line moves forward
techniques mentioned above --including                   like clockwork, I notice whether someone
existential reflection (on lived time, space,            takes extra time stuffing an envelope for a
                                                         bill payment or a deposit, or whether
corporeality and relationality), interviewing,           someone makes multiple transactions. I
writing and re-writing. Like many everyday               notice how close the person behind me is
scenarios of surveillance, this description              standing to me. I clutch my purse a little bit
                                                         tighter. Did I zip up all of my pockets on my
presents characteristics that are more diffuse           backpack, I wonder?
than in Sartre's description. However, many of
the same themes and experiential elements                It is finally my turn to step up to the machine
                                                         –to a stage where others will watch me as I
remain salient.                                          have watched them. With an almost
                                                         mechanical rapidity, I reach into my purse
In this description, presented again in the              and pull out my wallet, and pull out my
                                                         bankcard from its protective outer casing. I
textbox on the right, the role of observer and           slide my card into the machine, and for a
observed are both present. As in Sartre's                moment wonder if it will correctly read my
description, the two roles switch at a certain           card's information. I notice the person next
                                                         to me taking longer than me to complete her
point, and the first person observer becomes             transaction. I wonder why it appears like
the observed as she steps up to complete her             she's making herself at home in front of the
transactions at the bank machine. The                    bank machine. Leisurely putting down her
                                                         things… and now she's answering her cell
characteristics established in the first part of         phone?!
the narrative are in many cases replaced by
their opposites in the second part. First, while     After I complete my withdrawal, I take my
                                                     transaction record, read it once, and rip it up
in the lineup to use the ATM, relation, time,        into tiny shreds that I quickly dispose of. As I
space and body are experienced as guarded            complete my turn and walk away from the
waiting and watching, a careful awareness of         machine, I look back to do a quick final
                                                     check to make sure that I have not left
self and above all of the other at the ATM           anything behind of my transaction.
machine. Time is dilated, filled with the
impatient observation of the minutiae of others' activities: "I notice whether someone
takes extra time stuffing an envelope for a bill payment or a deposit, or whether someone
makes multiple transactions." But when the narrator reaches the machine herself, the
watcher becomes the watched, and is presumably being observed as she had earlier been
observing others. Time is lived not as waiting but in terms of self-aware activity. Under
the impatient gaze of the others, the lived body is experienced as something that is
observed by others, as if on a stage before an impatient audience.

But unlike Sartre's account, at no point in this bank machine description is the
consciousness of the observer completely and utterly absorbed in the observed, "as ink is
by a blotter." The existential-relational quality of this situation, in other words, is not as
purely objectifying as in Sartre's example: Those in the line and at the bank machine
relate to each other not purely as anonymous, hidden observer and those being
surreptitiously observed. Those in the roles of observer and observed are able to see each
other, and have the potential to communicate in other ways. Similarly, after the observer

steps up to the bank machine and becomes the observed, this change of roles is never
absolute: She continues to observe, while also being acutely aware that she is the object
of others' observation, and carefully monitoring her own behaviour as an apparent result
of this awareness.

Phenomenology, Agency & Extended Corporeality
         Together, the Sartrean and the present-day experiential accounts of surveillance
confirm, augment, but in the end, also undermine an important issue brought up by van
der Ploeg, and Haggarty and Ericson: Namely, the question of the "data-double" or the
"informaticized body." In the last sentence of the bank machine description, we read how
the narrator takes her transaction record, and rips "it up into tiny shreds" and disposes of
it. As indicated earlier, we are dealing here with the "extended" phenomenological body
and the signs or traces both premeditatively and unavoidably emanating from it. This
extended body is represented not only by the printed transaction receipt, but also by the
coordinated provision of bank card and PIN code at the bank machine interface. This is
the case insofar as it is a record that can be interpreted as coeval with one's physical
presence, identity and deliberate intention. Traces of these kinds can vary in nature can be
indifferent or incriminating, marks of affection or anger, aids to memory or attempts at
         Traces are in this sense aspects of our being through which we become objects in
the world. Providing a programmatic and aggressive examples of this objectification
process, surveillance and dataveillance take as their object not only our visible body but
also the data and physical traces we leave behind us everywhere. This becomes all the
more true and pervasive as electronic mediation scatters ever more traces far and wide.
The customer at the bank machine conscientiously destroys the one trace she holds in her
hand at the end of the transaction, but other traces have entered an infernal system of
databases, networks and hard drives from which they are unlikely to be wholly erased.
This external and objectified self, of course, is functionally the same as Mathiessen's
"data double" and van der Ploeg's "informaticized body" --a simulacrum of the self that
can stand in for the person in all sorts of situations. Understood in this way, identity,
action, presence indeed becomes more closely associated with virtual simulacra than with
their "actual" counterparts: We need only think of popular accounts of identity theft and
error --such as individuals manifestly alive and well, but officially rendered "terminated"-
- to recognize the reality of this doubling. The ease which with the body can be scanned,
measured in its different dimensions --and thus automatically identified-- heightens this,
as van der Ploeg's discussion of biometrics shows. Such doubling represents not only the
trumping of the abstract over the concrete body, but also, of course, the objective, macro-
social over the subjective and personal.
         Students of surveillance have been so impressed by the ever-growing
completeness of this data image constructed from these traces that they animate it as
though it were an actual person. Identity is seen as coeval with an assemblage of traces
rather than with actual presence. Thus van der Ploeg writes of "the inability to distinguish
between 'the body itself' and 'body information'" (van der Ploeg, 2003: 69). Haggerty and
Ericson similarly write,
         the surveillance assemblage standardizes the capture of flesh/information flows of
         the human body. It is not so much immediately concerned with the direct physical

         relocation of the human body (although this may be an ultimate consequence), but
         with transforming the body into pure information, such that it can be rendered
         more mobile and comparable. (Haggerty and Ericson, 2000: 613)
         There is something right about this turn in surveillance theory, and yet it is
obvious that we are still able to distinguish the real person from the traces that person
leaves behind. But our self-certainty in our own body belongs to a non-bureaucratic
world of everyday human experience that is increasingly marginalized in an
informaticized and bureaucratized society. In this society documents constructed on the
basis of data about ourselves are indeed the badge we must show everywhere to gain
admission and receive normal treatment as a person.
         While it seems exaggerated to claim that the data double is a "body" in anything
like the sense in which we are actually embodied physically, we can give a more
reasonable content to the preoccupation with the unaccustomed ontological density of the
data image by relating it back to the lived experience that is the focus of phenomenology.
Such a phenomenology of traces would reveal our ambivalence about what we leave
behind. Traces can be indifferent or incriminating, marks of affection or anger, aids to
memory or attempts at forgetfulness. The trace is bound to us by its origin and often by
internal signs of various sorts and so we do not quite leave it behind after all. And yet we
do not want to drag along every trace of our passage through life. We count on the
erasure of most traces. It is this erasure which enables us to face the world afresh each
day and to face it with a self-image we construct at least partially anew for each new
situation in which we find ourselves.
         The notion that all the traces of our activity are collected and assembled into a
double of our very self evokes the nightmare of a surveillance society. But we are still
protected from that nightmare by a happy innocence, the assumption that most traces of
our extended bodies are ignored. But that innocence is increasingly lost as we become
more aware of the risks associated with the tracking and collecting of traces of our
activities. Some of these disillusionments have to do with the economic and legal
consequences of data collection. The problem of identity theft alerts us to some of these.
A vague, unarticulated awareness of these problems can be said to hover invisibly in the
background of the description of the bank machine --reinforcing the conformist confines
highlighted in that account. Credit reporting and medical information are other domains
in which individuals increasingly act to protect themselves from the consequences of
traces of their activities being scattered far and wide. Resistance, in these cases, takes the
form of individuals demanding the right to control and shape their identity by
commanding the data image itself. The struggle over traces becomes a salient feature of
many ordinary individuals' lives in a way that we associated exclusively with criminals
and crime scenes in an earlier period.
         To be a subject, we need to maintain the gap between our embodied selves and
our informaticized identities even if we take little advantage of it and on the whole do
actually behave in socially acceptable ways. It would be intolerable for everyone to have
full access to our salary, the details of our relations to our family, our medical histories,
sexual proclivities and so on. Such knowledge would completely objectify us and force
us to live up to (or down to) the image of ourselves implied in this knowledge. Like
Sartre's spy at the keyhole, himself espied, we would lose our ability to function as a
subject. We could no longer choose an identity to project depending on our inclination

and the situation at hand as everything having to do with our identity would have been
pre-empted by the surveillance system. Truly, to be completely "outed" is to be
         In the end, the possibility that somewhere someone is in possession of our
complete data image would be debilitating and discouraging quite apart from any
economic or legal consequences. It would violate our sense of the conditions of free
personality. Just how serious the violation will turn out to be depends not only on the
possible nefarious use of the data but also on how our awareness that it exists influences
our self-image. This is already changing.
       Surveillance of email in companies and public institutions has become so
commonplace and, for a few individuals, so consequential, that it is considered wise now
never to use it for any potentially compromising communication. This is a bad sign. What
is considered potentially compromising explodes in so many directions that it can leave
very little to say on email or via other lapidary media that is of an unofficial nature. What
the bank machine description underscores is that the "implied" restriction on our self-
expression and activity is worse than fear of criminal prosecution, which at least concerns
only rather unusual behaviours most of us avoid. If email and the ATM transactions are
to serve as model, very little margin of maneuver will be left in which to have a life.
         However, the phenomenological accounts provided above also suggest a limit to
the powers of surveillance. It is not the objective world --its formations and
determinations-- that lies at the centre of the phenomenological cosmology, but the
meanings, projects and adventures of embodied consciousness of self and other. More
accurately, it is the subjective and objective reconceptualized together as co-emergent in
action and lived experience that is the locus of phenomenological inquiry. This allows a
phenomenological approach to address a vital theme that the macro-social, institutional
accounts are frequently criticized for omitting: the question of agency and resistance. In
the vocabulary of existential phenomenology, these factors are given expression in terms
of "negativity" and "transcendence." Such terms emphasize that consciousness and the
self is not immanent to a positive, pre-determined order of things. The difference between
an individual and his or her data double lies in the power of the individual to construct his
or her own future through unpredictable action, whereas the double is constructed as a
predictive tool. As Majid Yar explains, macro-social, Foucauldian frameworks of the
likes of Haggerty, Ericson and van der Ploeg,

       the subject of the gaze is rendered in terms of its passivity, confined to
       internalising the behavioural repertoires laid out by the disciplining authority.
       [These frameworks overlook] the extent to which the subject has an active role
       within its reception of the gaze, and renders it well nigh impossible to give an
       adequate account of creativity and resistance. (Yar 2003; 261)

        Yar calls for a recognition of "the centrality of the consciousness of the subject"
(Yar 2003; 261) and such a recognition, he argues, "opens the question of panoptic power
to precisely the phenomenological question of intentionality, what the subject does or
does not attend to in his relation to the world he encounters" (Yar, 2003; 261; emphasis in
original). Our discussion has shown that our world includes the limitations imposed by
the "traceability" of the observed, objective, and extended body, but also that these

limitations are themselves qualified by their interpretable and manipulable character. This
holds out a certain promise in the face of the proliferating powers of surveillance and
dataveillance. A variety of stratagems of resistance are still possible. As Yar describes,
these can range from the concerted efforts of groups such as the CCTV players to the
strategies of those living (to a greater or lesser extent) "off the grid", as well as to those
constructing and manipulating identities as hackers and thieves. Finally, as the events in
Seattle in 1999 (and in other times and places since) show, the sheer, mobile, physical
mass of political protests still poses a challenge to authority that is not easily controlled.

        As these examples suggest, it is not the self and the body in isolation that presents
the greatest potential for resistance, but rather the aggregate effect of combined corporeal
presence, working together in coordinated action. As the bank machine description
indicated, it is through a kind of tacit collective action in the spaces of awareness of the
self and other that significant aspects of surveillance and "enforcement" of social norms
take place. It follows that it is also in this collective space, and through different
structures of collective awareness and action, that surveillance and the control it
represents can be undermined and resisted.

       We began this article by showing that many of Foucault's insights have been taken
up and modified in the light of new trends in surveillance. The dissemination of sites of
surveillance and the density of the data collected and assembled by them distinguishes
current regimes of surveillance from the Panoptic regime Foucault studied in his writings
on the origins of the modern penal system. Foucault's intent was to identify the hidden,
subtle, everyday pressures toward conformity through which modern human beings are
rendered subjects and brought within the confines of a social order. The critical force of
his analyses lay in the attack on the exorbitant normalizing pressures mobilized in
modern societies. As his critics note, Foucault did not develop an account of the
experience of these pressures by the individuals and their capacity for resistance.
      We have introduced phenomenology here as a corrective to this latter deficiency in
Foucault's method. Our preliminary analyses in this paper are meant simply to show the
potential of this approach. A great deal more work needs to be done. But already a
paradoxical result is beginning to appear. The lived experience of surveillance does not
precisely track the institutional analyses of current surveillance studies. Instead, we seem
to be returned to the general framework of Foucault's original theory --but with a twist.
What we discover in the experience of surveillance is not the constitution of "data
doubles" which cast doubts on identity or ontology, but rather a tightening of the
normalizing screws. We are headed, perhaps without much overt repression, toward a
kind of "dystopia lite," a disturbing mental caricature of the panoptic society that seems
so implausible to most contemporary surveillance studies. But at the same time,
phenomenology's emphasis on consciousness, the body and its motility points to the
possibility of quotidian forms of resistance --using the very subjectivity and corporeality
upon which that surveillance and control depend.


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