All posts tagged surveillance

While perusing the web for valid sources for my individual research, I came across a paper by Peter Marks titled Imaging Surveillance: Utopian Visions and Surveillance Studies. This paper focuses on the way surveillance plays a role in dystopian literature, specifically how it presents itself in utopias. He talks about the origination of surveillance in utopias, by examining Thomas Moore’s Utopia. Here, he states, “nothing is private or exclusive, … there are no hiding places outside the home, no spots for secret meetings, and … inhabitants live in full view of each other.” This description comes from Moore’s Utopia, but is reminiscent of literature that capitalizes on “surveillance societies”, as Marks calls them. In his paper, he argues for the large concern for surveillance in utopian literature. In the beginning of the article, he also talks about the power of 1984 in influencing readers’ and society’s view on the surveillance society. He also points to Stanley Cohen, who published on the importance of surveillance as a means of social control in dystopian/utopian literature. He then connects this to Darko Suvin’s idea of cognitive estrangement; he says that these utopian worlds in literature present us with alternative worlds, that catalyze new and creative thought, and in this case specifically on surveillance in our own societies.

My paper focuses on the use of Big Data in dystopias to facilitate oppression, and the most common way it is used is in surveillance. Marks’s paper was useful in addressing this issue because he creates the argument for a common “surveillance society”, in which I can use to identify them in the novels that I am examining. I can then recognize how Big Data is being used in the methods of surveillance in each novel. This then is related back to its usage in our own society, pointing out the possible abuses through the creation of an alternate society, AKA cognitive estrangement. I found the introduction and the section titled “A Case for and Against Utopias” most useful, as this is where Marks makes his general case before analyzing this trend/theme in specific TV shows and books.

This paper will be useful in other projects as well, especially those that focus on technology and oppression. During our conference presentation, I heard many themes associated with oppressive rule, whether it be through surveillance or other means of restriction. This source is worth using, since it links many ideas in the study of dystopian literature to the issue of surveillance. Because of the way Marks refers to well-known scholars in this field, his paper can point you to further readings on similar topics in Dystopian literature.


Works Cited:

Marks, Peter. “Imaging Surveillance: Utopian Visions and Surveillance Studies”. Surveillance & Society,       Vol. 3 No. 2/3, pp. 222-239.

In my research on media and communication in relation to dystopian fiction and to society today, I found a very interesting and informative source titled, “Living the Orwellian Nightmare: New Media and Digital Dystopia,” by Greg Diglin. I found it extremely helpful in uncovering some new ideas and new information for my paper, and it seems like anyone who is interested in the topic of surveillance or that of media and communication in dystopian fiction would find it highly applicable and helpful.

The basic, underlying argument that the author makes throughout the article is that many elements of George Orwell’s well-known book, 1984, can be observed in society today due to the fact that governments today are able to use new, unprecedented technologies in order to have similar powers to “Big Brother” in the dystopian novel. To elaborate upon this argument, Diglin first offers a description of the political and social conditions that 1984 emerged from, so that even someone who has not actually read the book could understand his argument. He then goes on to further his ideas through the use of events that have actually happened, as well as real organizations and people as examples of Orwellian influence in modern society. Some of these examples include the WikiLeaks Project, Edward Snowden, and real governments’ use of propaganda. He makes strong connections from the real world to the Orwellian dystopia, and successfully covers a range of issues, from surveillance, to propaganda, to netspeak, to create a very well-rounded and soundly reasoned argument. A few of his main points are that all people using new media are constantly subjected to surveillance through various government organizations, that the US government has used digital propaganda to promote warfare and influence citizens’ opinions, and that the use of the internet is leading to the breakdown of language and knowledge.

This argument is made easily coherent with the organization of the article into different sections based on those core issues of surveillance, propaganda, and destruction of knowledge, which makes it simple to find the information that you are looking for and gives it a logical flow. Overall, it’s an important source because it directly relates fact to fiction, and the dystopian world to the real world, rather than resting solely in one or the other, which makes it easy to connect them through common themes.

Throughout my research, I had to narrow down my sources to sources that I found to be credible as well as unique to my other sources. Because there is so much out there on technological surveillance and surveillance in general, I did a lot of narrowing down, but eventually, I got a good set of sources for my research paper. I also noticed during our presentations that several people mentioned technologic surveillance within their presentation and in looking at my sources, I feel that the book, “Law and Society: Read ID Act” might be useful to those people who plan to discuss how the government in YA Dystopias exercises control over its citizens. One presentation that stood out to me was Victoria’s, as she mentioned in her presentation, “Citizens are perceived to be under constant surveillance”, so this source might be useful for you, Victoria!

“Law and Society: Real ID Act” was written by William Eyre, and discusses the multiple laws that have been passed by the US government and how these laws have affected citizens’ right to privacy. The main argument of the book is that the American government has been enacting a great deal of laws in regard to citizen privacy, and as a result, there has been an erosion of personal privacy. The purpose of the book is to increase awareness of how privacy rights can completely disappear and how difficult it can/will be to regain these rights once they are lost. I think that this source is very useful in my own research paper and can be a great source for other projects because it shows how possible it is for today’s society to deteriorate into a dystopian, surveyed society that is controlled by a mass government. Not only does this book provide a lot of information, it is also a great source because the author does not stray off topic and manages to exhibit ethos and logos. The book is organized into chapters based on the laws passed by the US government and within each chapter, an argument is provided by Eyre why a law is just or unjust, referring to the Bill of Rights as backup for his argument. He provides thorough details and concrete examples to back up his argument (logos) and contributes to his ethos by explaining his background in Information Technology with the US Government. Ultimately, this book was a great resource for my project and can be one for yours because it shows how society has been affected by technological surveillance and it illustrates the dystopian potential of the United States.


Works Referenced:

Eyre, William. The Real ID Act: Privacy and Government Surveillance, LFB Scholarly Pub., El Paso, 2011.

In class, when were were learning about panoptical security and their applications in dystopias, we went over Foucault’s theory of the “plague town”. This was a town where the plague was present, so everyone had to be monitored very closely so that no one would die. In this setting, the town was a model of a dystopian society. For my research on how our present technology is capable to form dystopia, I wanted more background on technology involved with surveillance. I first had to understand what the definition of surveillance was. I found a source from the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, which focused on public health surveillance. “The Evolution of Surveillance” by William Halperin is a short article about the current state of health surveillance, and the capabilities that the health community wishes to have.

A brief summary

In the 1970s with the passage of Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), health was only surveilled in the country through physician reporting. Today, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE), and other entities, surveillance has evolved.

You’re being surveilled when you go to the doctor!

William talks about the origins of health surveillance, which began when a surveillance system design by Bill Foege eradicated the last clusters of smallpox. Today, health surveillance also involves preventing diseases rather than just controlling spread, injuries, disease hazards, interventions for preventing disease, and more. Basically, health surveillance has become more powerful.

For example, OSHA tests for blood lead on behest of physicians looking for patients. Even though there’s no present rationale behind the data collection, OSHA is still collecting the information. The health community continues to look to improve their data collection methods and strategies to make the “neurological system of public health” as vigilant as possible

At the airport in Hong Kong, you must pass health checkpoints.

Organization and Rhetorical Strategies

This article starts by talking of the origins and definition of public health surveillance. Giving the reader some background helps with understanding. It then summarizes how the surveillance has evolved over time, examples of it, and what is to come in the future. It mainly uses logos and ethos throughout the journal, as it is a health journal.

Key terms and theories, and why they are important

The key ideas that I got from this article were that surveillance is “the ongoing, systematic collection, analysis, and interpretation of health related data with the a priori purpose of preventing or controlling disease or injury, or of identifying unusual events of public health importance.”

In a dystopian society, crime, any disobedience, is considered and treated like a disease. It’s shunned, undesirable, and we try to get rid of it. When William talks about a Neurological System, he’s talking about a sort of autonomous intelligent system that manages itself. Any system, given a feedback loop, can sustain itself. Surveillance is a method for a feedback loop so the public can remain healthy. A key defining feature of a utopian or a dystopian society is that the state stays the same. Therefore, surveillance is crucial in a dystopian society, as it allows a state to remain static.

In this article, William talks about how surveillance is evolving. We collect data even if we aren’t sure of it’s rationale, but we collect it just in case the data becomes useful. He says,

“Surveillance in practice is an evolving quilt or tapestry of many methods of data collection,“

To increase surveillance, you just need to collect more data. William warns however that “collection of data without analysis or use is not surveillance.” This provoked me and made me think about what surveillance in our present society use actually surveillance, or just unnecessary extra data collection.

Halperin, William. “The Evolution of Surveillance.” American Journal of Industrial Medicine, vol. 56, no. 6, June 2013, pp. 613–614. EBSCO, doi:10.1002/ajim.22193. Accessed 24 Feb. 2017.

On Friday, I will be giving a presentation on the role of “Technological Surveillance in YA Dystopias” and the effect that it has on characters within the books that we’ve read (as well as my independent reading book, Matched). I will start by giving my personal definition of what a Dystopia is, just as I did in my first blog, and then I will delve into the definition of technological surveillance and I will connect the two definitions to one another. I am going to discuss how the presence of technological surveillance in societies have a largely negative effect on the characters that I’ve chosen to discuss from each book. I think that the presentation will be interesting for you all to hear because although we’ve talked a great deal about technological surveillance in Little Brother, we haven’t had the chance to really discuss its’ effect in The Hunger Games. In addition to discussing the effects that surveillance has on the psychological state of characters within these novels, I plan to compare the level of surveillance in the novels to the level of surveillance in the world today. It’s scary, but I’ve found lots of similarities.

I am also excited to present the information that I’ve discovered about technological surveillance in the United States today because there seem to be a lot of things that we aren’t aware of as US citizens and I am interested to see how people will react to what I’ve found in my sources. You should all look forward to hearing my presentation because it will not only shed light on subjects that we haven’t been able to discuss about the books we’ve read in class, but it will also shed light on how scarily similar some of these books are to today’s world. I hope that my presentation will make you think about your use of technology and reconsider how excessively one should use said technology. I’ve attached a link to one of my sources and I hope you all get a chance to read or skim through it so that you might have some food for thought before my presentation.

For class today, you read Foucault’s Panopticism, which is a chapter out of his theoretical text Discipline and Punish. We worked through the very complicated theory piece by piece, first in small teams then as a class. We talked about the regimented nature of the plague town versus the conditions of the exiled leper colony. We discussed the key elements of Bentham’s prison, the Panopticon and the way Foucault uses that architectural structure as the basis for his theory on Panopticism.

We talked about the ways in which the structure of the Panopticon creates a power differential between the guards and the guarded and how that power dynamic based on fear can cause individuals within the system to police themselves, making the guards redundant (like in District 12, where individuals wouldn’t go outside the fence even though they were starving to death). We talked about how power needs to be visible but unverifiable to make this work and located examples in the YA dystopias we have read so far. Finally, we talked about the ways Panopticism presents itself in our digital age, the flaws in the system, and ways to undermine the power.

We will continue to return to this concept of the Panopticon throughout our dystopia readings and some of you may find it useful for your own research projects.


  1. Watch The 100 episodes 1, 2 & 5
  2. Read the Knickerbocker essay (available on TSquare in the resources folder)
  3. Look ahead to Monday night – Blog Post 3 will be due by 11:55pm