How Closed-Circuit Television Surveillance Organizes the Social: An Institutional Ethnography (1)

By Walby, Kevin | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

How Closed-Circuit Television Surveillance Organizes the Social: An Institutional Ethnography (1)


Walby, Kevin, Canadian Journal of Sociology


Abstract: Institutional ethnography is a sociological method of inquiry which problematizes social relations at the local site of lived experience, while examining how series of texts coordinate actions, consciousness, and forms of organization in extra-local settings. This paper will demonstrate that institutional ethnography is a critically innovative way to study the socio-technical dynamics of camera surveillance. Closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance video should be conceptualized as a text which is active and activated, coordinating lived realities and facilitating organization at the institutional level within a specific ruling framework. Research was conducted with camera operators in a Suburban Mall CCTV control room located in Victoria, BC. The talk of CCTV operators in their work setting demonstrates how video is used to coordinate lived realities and facilitate extra-local organization. The findings of this study suggest the gravity of racialized profiling in everyday surveillance and complicate Foucault's Panopticon metaphor.

Resume: L'ethnographie institutionnel est une methode d'enquete sociologique qui questionne des relations sociales a l'emplacement local d'une experience vecue, tout en examinant comment les series de textes coordonnent des actions, la conscience, et des formes d'organisation dans les arrangements supplementaires-locaux. Cet article demonstra que l'ethnographie institutionnel est une maniere innovatrice et critique d'etudier la dynamique socio-technique de la surveillance de camera. La video de surveillance de la television a circuit ferme (CCTV) devrait etre conceptualisee en tant qu'un texte qui est en activite et active, qui coordonnees les experience vecues et qui organize au niveau institutionnel dans un cadre regnant particulier. La recherche a ete conduite avec des operateurs de camera dans une salle de commande d'une CCTV suburbaine mail situee a Victoria, B.C. L'entretien des operateurs de CCTV dans leur arrangement de travail on demontre comment la video est utilisee pour coordonner des realites vecues et pour faciliter l'organisation supplementaire-locale. Les resultats de cette etude opposent la theorie de Foucault au sujet du Panopticon. D'ailleurs, on explique l'importance de la categorie de "race" quanta la surveillance.

Introduction

Social interaction is increasingly mediated textually, by paper, electronic, and televisual media. Series of texts, inscribed in words and images, are used to coordinate the activities of people in everyday life. Institutional ethnography problematizes social relations at the local site of lived experience, while examining how series of texts contribute to the coordination of actions, consciousness, and forms of social organization in extra-local settings (Smith, 1987; 1999). Once texts are seen as fundamentally active constituents of sociality and work processes, read and activated by social actors, the method alters the ontology of established sociology so as to uncover how daily activities arrange and assemble ruling practices. As both a form and critique of sociology, institutional ethnography aims to explicate ruling practices as they are worked by actual people via textually-mediated coordination to organize our lives.

In most western nation-states during the last decade, there has been a rapid diffusion of closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance into open-streets, apartment complexes, and places of consumption. Within the new paradigm of neo-liberal governance, CCTV has been implemented to "reaestheticise" particular geospatial locations throughout the city and to promote consumer friendliness (Fyfe and Bannister, 1996; Coleman and Sim, 2000; 1998). Inside the quasi-public space of the shopping mall, the body language of citizens is relentlessly scrutinized from a distance by CCTV operators, though a high number of people remain unaware of the cameras (Honess and Charman, 1992:6). Ethnographic research has been conducted in CCTV control rooms, (2) but, to the knowledge of this author, no study of CCTV monitoring has been conducted from the perspective of institutional ethnography. …

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