Surveillant Architectures

Developing paradigms in media culture. This blog is collaboratively edited by the Surveillant Architectures Group.

Readings for the Winter Term 2016/17: Systematic Observation and Recall

Required reading for the Winter Term 2016/17

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, especially the “Docile Bodies” chapter.
English translation freely available online: Foucault Discipline and Punish filetype:pdf
(The German translation: Überwachen und Strafen is in the Semesterapparat, and there is a second copy in the library that you can take home: PHI I.1.2 – 28)

Gilles Deleuze – Postscript on the Societies of Control
Very short essay from 1990, available online, e.g. here or hereGerman translation in the Semesterapparat: PHI C.7 (DEL) – 76

Here’s a 20 minute video explaining the core concepts: (try to ignore the background music and it’s pretty good)

Giorgo Agamben: What is an Apparatus?
PDF available online:

German translation: Was ist ein Dispositiv? in the Semesterapparat: PHI I.1.2 – 58

“According to the philosopher Giorgio Agamben, “subjectivity” is the result of an encounter between “living beings” and the “apparatus”—which he defines, following Michel Foucault, as technologies that possess the power “to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control, or secure the gestures, behaviours, opinions, or discourses of living beings.” Art, according to the approach of Nervous Systems, possesses in turn the power to release life from these apparatuses of capture—even if only for moments and in the imagination—thus undoing the current drift toward ever-greater systemic closure. It is in this realm that we can begin to assemble the fragments of lived experience historically, in order to observe the transformations of “the social” in the present, and the frontiers of its subsumption.
(from the introduction to the Nervous Systems catalogue, see below)

Nervous Systems exhibition 2016 @ HKW, Introductory essay in the catalogue
by Anselm Franke, Stephanie Hankey and Marek Tuszynski
The essay is freely available online from HKW
The entire catalogue is in the Semesterapparat: KUN B.6.14 – 813

poster by Nikolai

Research paper: Mass Surveillance Silences Minority Opinions

Under Surveillance: Examining Facebook’s Spiral of Silence Effects in the Wake of NSA Internet Monitoring

Research paper by Elizabeth Stoycheff

Abstract: Since Edward Snowden exposed the National Security Agency’s use of controversial online surveillance programs in 2013, there has been widespread speculation about the potentially deleterious effects of online government monitoring. This study explores how perceptions and justification of surveillance practices may create a chilling effect on democratic discourse by stifling the expression of minority political views. Using a spiral of silence theoretical framework, knowing one is subject to surveillance and accepting such surveillance as necessary act as moderating agents in the relationship between one’s perceived climate of opinion and willingness to voice opinions online. Theoretical and normative implications are discussed.

In “Data and Goliath”, Bruce Schneier says the same (it’s in the library in both English and German, see our Semesterapparat):

Across the US, states are on the verge of reversing decades-old laws about homosexual relationships and marijuana use. If the old laws could have been perfectly enforced through surveillance, society would never have reached the point where the majority of citizens thought those things were okay. There has to be a period where they are still illegal yet increasingly tolerated, so that people can look around and say, “You know, that wasn’t so bad.” Yes, the process takes decades, but it’s a process that can’t happen without lawbreaking. Frank Zappa said something similar in 1971: “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”

The perfect enforcement that comes with ubiquitous government surveillance chills this process. We need imperfect security­ — systems that free people to try new things, much the way off-the-record brainstorming sessions loosen inhibitions and foster creativity. If we don’t have that, we can’t slowly move from a thing’s being illegal and not okay, to illegal and not sure, to illegal and probably okay, and finally to legal.

This is an important point. Freedoms we now take for granted were often at one time viewed as threatening or even criminal by the past power structure. Those changes might never have happened if the authorities had been able to achieve social control through surveillance.

This is one of the main reasons all of us should care about the emerging architecture of surveillance, even if we are not personally chilled by its existence. We suffer the effects because people around us will be less likely to proclaim new political or social ideas, or act out of the ordinary. If J. Edgar Hoover’s surveillance of Martin Luther King Jr. had been successful in silencing him, it would have affected far more people than King and his family.

Big Other: The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism

Shoshana Zuboff on how we became Google’s slaves. A must-read.

Big other: surveillance capitalism and the prospects of an information civilization Update: Joscha sent in a better link: The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism

German translation: Überwachungskapitalismus

Nearly 70 years ago historian Karl Polanyi observed that the market economies of the 19th and 20th centuries depended upon three astonishing mental inventions that he called fictions. The first was that human life can be subordinated to market dynamics and be reborn as labor. Second, nature can be subordinated and reborn as real estate. Third, that exchange can be reborn as money. The very possibility of industrial capitalism depended upon the creation of these three critical fictional commodities. Life, nature, and exchange were transformed into things, that they might be profitably bought and sold. The commodity fiction, he wrote, disregarded the fact that leaving the fate of soil and people to the market would be tantamount to annihilating them.

With the new logic of accumulation that is surveillance capitalism, a fourth fictional commodity emerges as a dominant characteristic of market dynamics in the 21st century. Reality itself is undergoing the same kind of fictional meta-morphosis as did persons, nature, and exchange. Now reality is subjugated to commodification and monetization and reborn as behavior. Data about the behaviors of bodies, minds, and things take their place in a universal real-time dynamic index of smart objects within an in finite global domain of wired things. This new phenomenon produces the possibility of modifying the behaviors of persons and things for profit and control. In the logic of surveillance capitalism there are no individuals, only the world-spanning organism and all the tiniest elements within it.

Thinking about surveillance of our most intimate activities

Law Professor Karen Levy writes about the rise of surveillance in our most intimate activities — love, sex, romance — and how it affects those activities.

This article examines the rise of the surveillant paradigm within some of our most intimate relationships and behaviors — those relating to love, romance, and sexual activity — and considers what challenges this sort of data collection raises for privacy and the foundations of intimate life.

Data-gathering about intimate behavior was, not long ago, more commonly the purview of state public health authorities, which have routinely gathered personally identifiable information in the course of their efforts to (among other things) fight infectious disease. But new technical capabilities, social norms, and cultural frameworks are beginning to change the nature of intimate monitoring practices. Intimate surveillance is emerging and becoming normalized as primarily an interpersonal phenomenon, one in which all sorts of people engage, for all sorts of reasons. The goal is not top-down management of populations, but establishing knowledge about (and, ostensibly, concomitant control over) one’s own intimate relations and activities.

After briefly describing some scope conditions on this inquiry, I survey several types of monitoring technologies used across the “life course” of an intimate relationship — from dating to sex and romance, from fertility to fidelity, to abuse. I then examine the relationship between data collection, values, and privacy, and close with a few words about the uncertain role of law and policy in the sphere of intimate surveillance.

(via Bruce Schneier)

Guest lecture: Nils Zurawski

“The omnipresent gaze? Surveillance between visibility and the management of norms.”

Guest lecture by Dr. Nils Zurawski
Institut für kriminologische Sozialforschung at Uni Hamburg,
founder of the Surveillance Studies network

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Surveillant Architectures Group
room 2, Filzengraben 2a
KHM Cologne

Upcoming conference in Barcelona:

Conference ›EVERY STEP YOU TAKE‹, 12.-15. November 2015, Dortmund

Opening this Thursday! (12th November 2015, 18:00, Dortmunder U, Cinema, free admission) Welcome addresses, opening lecture (de) by Hans Ulrich Reck (Academy of Media Arts Cologne), film programme, part I: “Living Data” with works by Walter Koch, Ridley Scott, Norman Cowie, Emma Charles, Steffen Köhn, Jen Liu, introduction: Florian Wüst.

And this is just day one. Programme booklet (Programmheft):

I’m on a panel with someone from the fantastic Peng!Collective on Sunday Nov 15, from 17.30-18.30, talking about my Hop 3 project currently on show here in Cologne, and how art & activism can go together.

On Saturday Nov 14, Holly Herndron will perform together with Mat Dryhurst in the context of the conference “Every Step You Take” – Art and Society in the Data Age” , at Dortmunder U – Centre for Art and Creativity. Admission is free! Please RSVP here:

Video: Holly Herndon/Metahaven (already a classic)

forecast the future by looking at what the rich have today

Sounds convincing. Liberty is losing out against security and comfort. Basically, people want what rich people have, and rich people have no personal privacy. They are surrounded by servants who know everything about them.

Two Thoughtful Essays on the Future of Privacy

Paul Krugman argues that we’ll give up our privacy because we want to emulate the rich, who are surrounded by servants who know everything about them:

Consider the Varian rule, which says that you can forecast the future by looking at what the rich have today — that is, that what affluent people will want in the future is, in general, something like what only the truly rich can afford right now. Well, one thing that’s very clear if you spend any time around the rich — and one of the very few things that I, who by and large never worry about money, sometimes envy — is that rich people don’t wait in line. They have minions who ensure that there’s a car waiting at the curb, that the maitre-d escorts them straight to their table, that there’s a staff member to hand them their keys and their bags are already in the room.

And it’s fairly obvious how smart wristbands could replicate some of that for the merely affluent. Your reservation app provides the restaurant with the data it needs to recognize your wristband, and maybe causes your table to flash up on your watch, so you don’t mill around at the entrance, you just walk in and sit down (which already happens in Disney World.) You walk straight into the concert or movie you’ve bought tickets for, no need even to have your phone scanned. And I’m sure there’s much more — all kinds of context-specific services that you won’t even have to ask for, because systems that track you know what you’re up to and what you’re about to need.

Another essay that argues that we have entered recursive hall of mirrors of seeing and being seen, and what that means to how we will develop in future. Reminds me of the analogy between privacy and undeveloped film – you need a part of yourself that’s not exposed to light (yet), if you want to be able to retain your integrity as a person:

Daniel C. Dennett and Deb Roy look at our loss of privacy in evolutionary terms, and see all sorts of adaptations coming:

The tremendous change in our world triggered by this media inundation can be summed up in a word: transparency. We can now see further, faster, and more cheaply and easily than ever before — and we can be seen. And you and I can see that everyone can see what we see, in a recursive hall of mirrors of mutual knowledge that both enables and hobbles. The age-old game of hide-and-seek that has shaped all life on the planet has suddenly shifted its playing field, its equipment and its rules. The players who cannot adjust will not last long.

The impact on our organizations and institutions will be profound. Governments, armies, churches, universities, banks and companies all evolved to thrive in a relatively murky epistemological environment, in which most knowledge was local, secrets were easily kept, and individuals were, if not blind, myopic. When these organizations suddenly find themselves exposed to daylight, they quickly discover that they can no longer rely on old methods; they must respond to the new transparency or go extinct. Just as a living cell needs an effective membrane to protect its internal machinery from the vicissitudes of the outside world, so human organizations need a protective interface between their internal affairs and the public world, and the old interfaces are losing their effectiveness.

Introduction to Cyber Security – free online course

Happy to advise if you think this could be something for you…

We shop online. We work online. We play online. We live online. As our lives increasingly depend on digital services, the need to protect our information from being maliciously disrupted or misused is really important.

This free online course will help you to understand online security and start to protect your digital life, whether at home or work. You will learn how to recognise the threats that could harm you online and the steps you can take to reduce the chances that they will happen to you.

what surveillance does to you

The effects of surveillance to personal liberty nicely explained: In English und auch auf deutsch.

During the war, Freud lectured on “The Censorship of Dreams” in early December 1915. Around that time, he inserted a new body of text into The Interpretation of Dreams, mapping wartime dream censorship directly onto wartime postal censorship:

Frau Dr. H. von Hug-Hellmuth (1915) has recorded a dream which is perhaps better fitted than any to justify my choice of nomenclature [for censorship]. In this example the dream-distortion adopted the same methods as the postal censorship for expunging passages which were objectionable to it. The postal censorship makes such passages unreadable by blacking them out; the dream censorship replaced them by an incomprehensible mumble.”

A fragment here: A 50-year-old “cultivated and highly esteemed lady” had (in her dream) gone to Garrison Hospital No. 1 saying that she wanted to volunteer for “service” meaning (as was evident to everyone in earshot): “love service” (Liebesdienste). To the sentry she announced, “I and many other women and girls in Vienna are ready to [mumble, mumble].” Yet everyone in the dream understood her. One of the officers: “Suppose, madam, it actually came to…(mumble).” Or later, the dreamer: “It must never happen that an elderly woman…(mumble)…a mere boy. That would be terrible.” As she walked up the staircase she heard an officer comment: “That’s a tremendous decision to make – no matter whether a woman’s young or old! Splendid of her!”

understanding computers?

“…our inability to describe and understand technological infrastructure reduces our critical reach, leaving us both disempowered and, quite often, vulnerable.”

James Bridle

“Again it comes back to infrastructure and how our inability to describe and understand reduces our critical reach, leaving us both disempowered and, quite often, vulnerable.

Opacity is an important word here too, as is the term ‘black box’. Most of our engineered communications infrastructure is not just extraordinarily abstract for people to come to grips with but is actively kept hidden. There are some valid reasons, of course, for keeping infrastructure hidden but the fact is it out of sight is being increasingly exploited in and out of supposedly democratic contexts, largely by surveillance initiatives we were never told about.

Engendering a healthy paranoia here, along with making work that ruptures the featureless skin of these black boxes – providing points of entry – is important to me currently. Infrastructure must not be a ghost. Nor should we have only mythic imagination at our disposal in attempts to describe it. ‘The Cloud’ is a good example of a dangerous simplification at work, akin to a children’s book. Such convenient reductions will be expensive in time as some corporations and governments continue to both engineer – and take advantage of – ignorance.”

Julian Oliver