What Is a Surveillance Culture (and How Many Are There)?
Dietmar Kammerer is assistant professor for media studies at Phillips-University Marburg. He is the author of Bilder der Überwachung (2008) and co-editor of Überwachung und Kontrolle (2015). He has published about the theory, history, and aesthetics of electronic surveillance, specifically about video surveillance and the imaginary, and about data privacy.
He will be teaching a 2-hour workshop entitled “What is a »Surveillance Culture« (and how many are there)?”
Participants of the workshop will discuss and reflect on the concepts of »privacy« as well as »surveillance culture«. The workshop aims at developing a nuanced and historically informed understanding of both concepts. In particular, we will address the following questions:
- the historical development of concepts of »privacy«: What can we learn by studying privacy anxieties in the 19th century?
- the varying (cultural as well as individual) understandings of what constitutes a breach or invasion of privacy: How can the differences be explained? And how can "privacy" be defended, if it is of such varying nature? Should it be defended?
- the analytical potential of the concept of »surveillance culture«: If we want to know what surveillance is, why look at culture?
Big Data, Algorithms, and the Cultural Work of Surveillance Panic
Sebastian M. Herrmann is an assistant lecturer at American Studies Leipzig. He is the author of Presidential Unrealities: Epistemic Panic, Cultural Work, and the US Presidency, published in 2014, where he investigates how the US presidency has become a focal point for postmodern concerns about a disappearance of categories such as ‘reality’ or ‘fact.’ He has also co-edited several volumes on the politics of popular culture, among them Poetics of Politics: Textuality and Social Relevance in Contemporary American Literature and Culture, and he is the founding head editor of aspeers, the first and currently only graduate journal for European American studies. He is currently working on the emerging data imaginary in nineteenth-century US culture.
This workshop will explore the cultural work done in discussions of surveillance as dataveillance—the large-scale gathering of data and its algorithmic mining for the purpose of understanding (and controlling) human behavior. Contemporary texts on dataveillance, for example Nicholas Carr’s The Switch or the numerous, recent articles on Cambridge Analytica and its involvement in the Brexit Vote and the US election, typically aim to educate their readers about the dangers that digitization and the ‘googleization of everything’’ (Vaidhyanathan) pose to their privacy and, by extension, to their personhood. We will work together to take a closer look at these texts’ rhetoric. Our conversation will be organized around questions such as:
- How do these texts express their concern about the dangers of digital mass surveillance?
- How do these texts imagine the link between a person’s identity and their data self?
- In how far are these texts similar to or different from earlier, pre-internet texts that imagine similar threats?
- How can we use such a comparative perspective to theorize the cultural work done by these texts?
Participation for both workshops is limited! Please register by June 23 via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.