Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Provocation: Technology, Resistance and Surveillance in Public Space

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Provocation: Technology, Resistance and Surveillance in Public Space

Article excerpt

Abstract

The introduction of technologies that monitor and track individuals to attribute suspicion and guilt has become commonplace in practices of order maintenance in public space. A case study of the introduction of a marker spray in Dutch urban public transport is used to conceptualise the role of technology in everyday resistances against surveillance. The introduction of this technology made available alternative subject positions. The notion of provocation is proposed for the opening up of social spaces by a technology. Through provocation, issues that do not find their expression in commonly accepted protocols and means of evidence are given a voice as a result of defiant, emotional and provisional technology usage. Attending to visible and defiant usages also opens up an agenda for examining the varying intensities at which technology operates.

Keywords

Subjectivity, public space, resistance, technology, surveillance, provocation

Introduction

The introduction of technologies that monitor and track individuals to attribute suspicion and guilt has become commonplace in practices of order maintenance in public space. Examples are camera supervision and data mining, and as discussed in this article, a spray to mark suspects of threat and assault in public transport. Codemark, (1) as I call this liquid marker, contained synthetic DNA and was carried by ticket inspectors.

Such technologies may affect how spaces function as 'lived spaces' (Lefebvre, 2010), i.e. they may affect the potential for a diversity of experiences, representations and self-presentations in public space (cf. Adey, 2004; Nemeth and Schmidt, 2011). In this article, I am interested in how spaces for reflection, struggle and resistance come into being in the context of surveillance, especially those in the context of a technology introduction. I understand lived spaces in the spirit of bell hooks' 'spaces of marginality': spaces that constitute and are constituted by the expression of alternative subjectivities (hooks, 1999; cf. Soja, 1996). These are flexible, transitory spaces that are constituted with and through everyday objects and imaginaries. The subjectivities expressed are alternative in that they are not enduringly endorsed by the relevant authorities.

My aim is not to idealise such spaces or to prescribe how they should be constituted. Instead, I aim to understand their relations with technology, and to describe their nature, problems and particularities. Even if resistances are not lasting, it is important to capture spaces for marginality, their tensions and how they may disappear. This is especially relevant because policy makers in various domains introduce new technologies with regularity, be it for long- or short-term application. Think of the introduction of corporate technologies during mega-events such as the Olympics (Bennett and Haggerty, 2011; Boyle and Haggerty, 2009), or in pilot studies (Gramme, 2015).

Authors in surveillance studies have addressed everyday resistances and struggles (Ball, 2005; Lyon, 2007). Kelly Gates, for instance, describes in detail how a facial recognition technology sparked a debate about police authority in the Tampa community (2010). We know less, however, about the agency of technology in sparking such struggles. Drawing on an ethnographic study of a pilot study on Codemark, I therefore ask how passenger and inspector subject positions were affected by Codemark's usage.

Using insights from science and technology studies (STS), specifically actor-network theory (ANT), I develop the notion of 'provocation' (Lezaun et al., 2013) to capture how technologies open up social spaces by making available alternative subject positions. Through provocation issues that do not find their expression in commonly accepted protocols and means of evidence are given a voice as a result of defiant, emotional and provisional usages of technology. …

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