by Mathieu Deflem (ed.). Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2008. 292pp. Hardback. £57.99/$99.95. ISBN: 9780762314164.

Reviewed by Sawyer Sylvester, Department of Sociology, Bates College. Email: ssylvest [at]


SURVEILLANCE AND GOVERNANCE is a collection of essays offering a variety of contemporary examples of the use of information for social control. In the introductory essay, Mathieu Deflem tells the reader that the essays which follow are, to a greater or lesser extent, colored by the theories of Michel Foucault especially as revealed in Foucault’s major work, DISCIPLINE AND PUNISH. In his book, Foucault demonstrates how the eighteenth century in Europe saw criminal punishment change from the state’s rending of the body of the condemned to its “meticulous surveillance of the soul” (p.3). Imprisonment largely replaced the scaffold and the oubliette, and the ideal prison became Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. The all-seeing eye of the warder in the central tower looked down the grilled cell blocks – every prisoner in view, all the time. Thus viewed, the criminal became an object of study and taxonomy, a statistic; and criminology became a science, the practical outcome of which is policy, or policing. The remaining articles deal with examples of contemporary uses of surveillance to bring about governance, social order, or, what the first Lieutenant of Police of Paris was charged to accomplish –“une bonne police.”

James Walsh’s paper on the Minuteman Project is the first example of Foucault’s “governmentality.” Walsh begins by noting that maintaining geographical borders and the inclusiveness shown to those allowed within borders is of the essence of state control. Especially in an age of rapid internationalization of trade and commerce, the power to survey, classify, and control the physical passage of goods and people across a country’s boundaries is both politically and economically vital. However, Walsh sees Foucault’s vision of governance and surveillance as no longer limited to the monolithic state, but dispersed among a variety of state agencies, and increasingly to private agencies. Walsh’s example of such privatization is the Minuteman Project begun in 2004. This is an organization of private citizens whose goal is to aid in the exclusion from our borders those whose presence has been defined as a threat. The group does not see itself as outside the law but acting in support of the state’s border control agents through extending the reach of the state’s surveillance. Their claim to legitimacy is not as a sub-agent of the state but exists by reference to the residual law enforcement powers imbedded in citizenship. In this role they stand watch at the border (the southern border), survey with private helicopters, watch day labor centers, and transmit the information they gather to border authorities. [*498]

Walsh distinguishes organizations like the Minutemen from community policing. In the latter case, it is the state agency that seeks partnership among citizens in order to improve its function. Whereas with the Minutemen, it is they who see a weakness in law enforcement and seek to remedy it. At the conclusion, he uses the example of the Minuteman Project (but perhaps community policing as well) to show the decentering of surveillance and its dispersion further beyond the orbit of the state.

The Haggerty, Huey, and Ericson article on CCTV is a lesson in how security technology has its cultural as well as physical setting. Generally, when one thinks of CCTV, Great Britain comes to mind, especially London with its widespread electronic surveillance of public places. This article, however, deals with the attempted installation of CCTV by the police department in two public places in the City of Vancouver. The first was a poverty stricken area of the city known as Downtown Eastside. Cameras were to be introduced here as a means of crime prevention. There was also a similar plan for a popular entertainment district. In both cases, but particularly the Downtown Eastside, the police failed to understand the cultural fabric of the population they were about to survey and saw the area solely as a law enforcement problem. They failed to realize that such an area not only contained groups such as drug addicts, but also a significant population of professionals there to help them – professionals who could protest loudly in the right ears that they did not want their privacy, or that of their clients, invaded. Moreover, such a low rent district not only had more than its share of the poor and homeless, but also working class families, and writers and artists, all of whom could be equally vocal about their privacy. And they all could vote. The authors’ conclusion is that the march of the technological “gaze” is anything but unstoppable.

Kirsten Christiansen begins the article, “The Conquest of Space,” with a discussion of how distinguishing public from private space is no longer simple and is a distinction always socially constructed – a construction involving elements of power, rights, occupancy, and what people may say and do in such spaces. In contemporary society, the distinction between private and public space is often blurred, together with the rights adhering to each. Christiansen’s illustration is the effort of the New York City police in 2006 to increase restrictions on, and surveillance of, parades and other street gatherings by amending the rules governing such activity and by adding some 3000 new CCTV cameras to the existing publicly and privately owned cameras in the area. All of this was done ostensibly for public safety, but failed to take into account the threat to the protected uses of public space that viewing, recording, classifying, and analyzing those uses implies.

Fabien Jobard and Dominique Linhardt in “The Check and the Guardianship” describe two quite different types of surveillance in France. One type, the “check,” was established at Orly airport; the other, “guardianship,” at a housing project in Dammarie-les-Lys. At Orly, the “check” is surveillance limited in time and purpose. A body of strangers is sorted into classes, those who may enter and those why may not enter a privileged space. For this limited [*499] surveillance, a person need open only a small part of the self for inspection. In contrast, the housing project was subject to the permanent occupancy of a special police unit sent there to govern a potentially unruly populace. Everyone was constantly under the supervision of agents of the state. Repeated identity checks were just one reminder that every resident was perpetually a suspect.

The final paper in Part I, “Lex Vigilatoria,” is by Thomas Mathieson. Its subject is the growth of large data systems of criminal information bases, not those of any single country under that state’s control, but those which have become the shared property of international consortia such as the EU. Examples are the Schengen Information System, the SIRENE Exchange, Europol Communications System, EURODAC, and others that Mathieson uses to illustrate his thesis – that such data bases (with their attendant capacity for error, threat to privacy, and possible misuse) are escaping even the minimal control by an individual government with its elected representatives and local pressure groups. What he sees is the creation of a parallel to Gunther Teubner’s idea of a modern international law of commerce, the “lex mercatoria” (p.119). As the various transnational information systems slip their connections to individual governments, Mathiesen sees them forming horizontal connections among themselves, creating a veritable “lex vigilatoria.”

While all of the articles in Part I deal with the strategy of social control through surveillance, Part II is concerned with the tactics used to bring about those strategic objectives. Staples and Decker, for example, consider the practice of house arrest. Although usually thought of only as a form of community corrections or intermediate sanction (and thus a minimization of the constraints of imprisonment), the authors see it as a method for the offender’s self transformation. The ostensible freedom given by house arrest can be taken away at any time under a program of constant surveillance; whereas in prison, there is very little left to take away. Under such a system of intense scrutiny a person tends to become self-governing, which is the true object of the program.

Scott White recounts the history of attempts by the FBI to gain access to library borrowers’ records, especially using provisions of the Patriot Act. Librarians and their clients alike might well consider surveillance of their records an invasion of privacy, a violation of academic freedom, or perhaps even an infringement of First Amendment protections. Particularly troubling was a gag rule that initially prevented anyone receiving a National Security Letter demanding such records from even discussing it. Later, this provision was ruled unconstitutional. However, as White points out at the end of the article, such a ruling may not have resulted in much protection since today such records are kept electronically and are more likely subject to clandestine electronic search.
David Cunningham and John Noakes are concerned with another aspect of covert surveillance, the fear on the part of social movements that they are being observed and infiltrated by state agents. The authors are particularly concerned with the constraints that movements and organizations may impose upon themselves and their activities in fear of such infiltration. The authors use the FBI’s [*500] COINTELPRO to detail the scope of the efforts involved in disrupting a social movement and the emotional impact of such scrutiny had on its subjects.

The final article in Part II by Michael McCahill is on “plural policing” and the use of CCTV. McCahill begins with the common historical view that policing before the nineteenth century was in the hands of a variety of agencies, private as well as public, and became predominately a state function only later. While noting that policing probably was never the exclusive possession of the state, McCahill claims that policing has recently seen a return to a more pluralistic form. This organizational change has been accompanied by a functional shift from a solely law enforcement role to one of risk management and crime prevention. This, in turn, involves a technique for discovery of the antecedents to crime and some sort of risk assessment protocol. CCTV has been one of the discovery tools. But when CCTV becomes a surveillance tool in both private and public hands, the pool of potential suspects expands greatly, and when class characteristics are used to choose actual suspects from the pool, the ecological fallacy is unleashed. McCahill also suggests that private policing may invoke a more cost effective private justice system, a system considerably less constrained by Constitutional protections.

Janet Chan begins Part III of the book with a discussion of what she terms “lateral surveillance.” She notes that technology provides the contemporary West with surveillance schemes that “permeate and connect in a rhizomatic network of sensors and detectors, memories and logic” (p.224). This includes a kind of vertical surveillance by police and security agents. But what Chan focuses on is lateral or “peer-to-peer” surveillance, citizens watching each other, encouraged to report suspicious activity, especially in an age of terrorist threats. In a time and place notably lacking in community, Chan claims that we have replaced lateral trust in fellow citizens with vertical trust in government agents and have created what she sees as a culture of suspicion. And that suspicion becomes categorical, in that we become suspicious of those who appear to fall into mistrusted stereotypes.

Karen Glover’s article deals with one of those mistrusted stereotypes. Using theoretical constructs of both Foucault and DuBois in a study of racial profiling, she demonstrates how the discriminatory surveillance of a racialized traffic stop is the undeserved watchfulness accorded to one who is defined as not a complete citizen. Chen fills out these constructs with a number of narratives of those who have been victims of such profiling.

Benoît Dupont’s article, “Hacking the Panopticon,” and Kevin Stenson’s “Surveillance and Sovereignty” end Part III of the book. In a way, they both serve as critiques of earlier articles in the section. Dupont feels that the stone and steel of Bentham’s Panopticon is poor material for a metaphor of contemporary surveillance, for two reasons. First, the Internet has so distributed the capacity for surveillance that it is no longer just the all- seeing eye of the state on the citizenry, but citizens can survey each other and even watch over the government itself. Second, the Internet [*501] supplies to everyone the tools to block surveillance by others by way of encryption and other ways of hiding in the digital world. For his part, Stenson, while acknowledging that there has been a broad distribution of the capacity for surveillance and its attendant power, sees many of the points of distribution still looking to the state as the ultimate source of coercion. As a result, the state remains the final guarantor of order.

The final section of the book is titled “Beyond Crime Control” and contains three articles that together show the pervasiveness of surveillance techniques. John Gilliom states that the federal legislation known as No Child Left Behind is one of the most extensive surveillance programs in U. S. history. In a mammoth effort to ensure that elementary education meets minimal outcome benchmarks, standardized tests have been mandated. The consequences, however, were certainly not those anticipated. Gilliom claims that the quality of education has actually fallen as teachers teach for the tests and curricula emphasize only those subjects covered by the tests. And, not surprisingly, advantaged students test better than disadvantaged. The law has truly been iatrogenic.

Nathan Harris and Jennifer Wood discuss another iatrogenic surveillance policy in the field of child protection. The authors claim that, in an effort to leave no case requiring protection undiscovered, agencies have concentrated on detection and the imposition of standardized solutions, to the exclusion of more individually designed responses to support families in need.

Finally, Minas Samatas’ article “From Thought Control to Traffic Control” shows how cultural forces can defeat some surveillance programs. In Greece, there has been strong resistance to the installation of CCTV even for traffic control because of the memory of the repressive police regime after 1950 and their keeping of surveillance records and their using such information for punishing political dissidents. Heavy-handed surveillance at one time can poison the well for even moderate and well intentioned efforts at another time.

Although a few of the articles are fairly dense for those not fluent speakers of Foucault, the book as a whole is a useful source for a number of rich examples loosely connected to the common theme of surveillance. The surveillance society is not a new idea, but these articles demonstrate the breadth of the application of that idea both in crime control and other areas. Benoît Dupont’s observation, for example, that the distributive quality of the Internet has given citizens the capacity for surveillance of the state itself has surely been played out recently in the streets of Iran.

Foucault, Michel. 1977. DISCIPLINE AND PUNISH: THE BIRTH OF THE PRISON. New York. Pantheon.

© Copyright 2009 by the author, Sawyer Sylvester.