Monthly Archives: April 2016

I’ve recently started, on the advice of one of the teaching staff, keeping an annotated bibliography and I’m finding it a really useful strategy (although, as the below will demonstrate, I’m also finding it hard to keep the entries at a reasonable length). I’ve included below one of my first entries on an excellent article by Kirstie Ball.

Ball, K (2005) “Organisation, surveillance and the body: towards a politics of resistance” Organisation, 12:1, 89-108

This extremely useful organisation studies piece by Kirstie Ball sets out a fairly comprehensive review of the surveillance and embodiment literature from the context of resistance. It does so in the context (as many papers form this time do) of the national ID card scheme which had been proposed by New Labour and which was since dismantled by the coalition government elected in 2010.

[Possibly from a civil liberties perspective but, to be honest, by 2010 this policy was fairly redundant as much of its surveillant functions could be far more cheaply carried out using big data strategies]

After conducting a brief review of modern organisational surveillance practices, Ball identifies that these focus primarily on the body as the central “object and subject” and “indicator of truth and authenticity”, counterposing this with the trend in theories of resistance to focus on consciousness, political forces and the interaction between individual subjectivity and “dominant managerial ideas”.

[A key question for me is whether insights from surveillance in the workplace are transposable to surveillance of criminal and deviant populations – maybe? In some regards, both use surveillance as a control function, by which employees/subjects are encouraged to conform as they know they are being surveilled, a classification function, by which employees/subjects can be graded, sorted and ranked, and an identification function, by which certain censured practices or individuals can be identified and punished. On the other hand, resistance is likely to take very different meanings and forms in the two different contexts]

Ball then goes on to discuss current developments in surveillance theory, in particular the contemporary trend away from the panoptic lens and towards frameworks informed by the work of Latour and Deleuze. The concept of the “surveillance assemblage” in particular emphasises the move away from the conceptualisation of surveillance as the totalising observation of a docile population and towards a networked, rhizomatic picture which privileges the connections linking individuals, technologies and organisations and the flows of data and information between them. Ball references an earlier paper, “Elements of Surveillance”, in which she identifies four conceptual elements of surveillance – “representation”, “meaning”, “manipulation” and “intermediaries” (which Ball identifies as a primary site of individual resistance). This draws on work by Haggerty and Ericson which identifies the role of surveillance processes as breaking the body down in to a series of “data flows” which feed “information categories”. Briefly, this pivots the focus of the surveillant lens from the subjective experiences and identities of an individual toward stripping aggregate volumes of data for categories and qualities which can be, in effect, sterilised, deindividualised and reapplied. In particular, it locates primary sites of resistance at the interfaces between humans and technologies and technologies and information (with a nod to Donna Harway’s cyborg). Ball, however, suggests that for a comprehensive understanding of surveillance, the processes of breaking down the body must be studied alongside the oft-neglected processes of reconstituting it within the system as “information”.

[This is very interesting and I’m unsure how I feel about it intuitively. This is also discussed by Amoore through the concept of “data derivatives” and “risk calculus” – I think in some ways this is a (naively or otherwise) very apt innovation as it reconceptualises individuals as technosocial entities, dealing with the “digital exhaust” (traces) of the various technologies, networks and actors which make up the technosocial individual heterogeneously, implicitly acknowledging the “agent-like” behaviour of technologies as they link up in Actor-Network. On the other hand, this is very much a tracing rather than a map – subjectivity is ironed out during the “decontamination” process by which the data are gathered and rendered sensible to the translation system. The real question is – are subjectivities, narrative, context and internality detectable in these “data derivatives”? If so, does this come from the software or is it dependent upon the intervention of the analyst?]

Ball then goes on to critically describe three contemporary frameworks for dealing with embodiment in the context of a recent “corporeal turn” in the social sciences. These include Crossley, who draws on Goffman to postulate the social world as fundamentally centred around embodiment, discussing how corporeal interactions between bodies and technology become routinized and merged into a “corporeal schema”; Hayles, who maintains that the body is experienced separately and simultaneously as both a lived experience and a social artefact which can be inscribed by interacting with technology; and Grosz, who describes the body as a “Mobius strip” whose inner and outer analytical surfaces are contingent and continuous. Ball criticises Crossley for the distancing of these body schema from politics and subjectivity, and Hayles for the dualism in her framework which does not sufficiently treat the boundary between body and technology as negotiable, contingent and subjective. She does, however, identify a usefully “cyborg” consciousness in Grosz’ work, in which the body exists “at the threshold of a singularity that interfaces with machineries, technologies, histories and cultures”. A further discussion of bodily ontology within organisations makes reference to biodata as “of the body” rather than “about” the body”, from which Ball then moves on to describe a series of theoretical turns, drawing on Haraway’s “cyborg”, to site resistance to bodily surveillance as occurring at several points in the translation process, through problematisations or manipulations of and at the interface between body and technology, technology and information.

[I am sympathetic with the connections Ball makes with Haraway’s cyborg – I think that a similar approach might translate well to an engagement with the creation of the criminal subject in cybercrime, with some notable points of conflict. Particularly, I’m not sure that “resistance” is the only thing of interest, or necessarily the most apt frame, for how people who engage in criminal or deviant acts in high-technology societies manage and conceptualise their relationships with the network of technologies, software, hardware and data which they enrol. In particular, given the points Ball makes about the blurring and negotiation of the boundaries between the body, technology and data, I think that this might be better described as an (potentially deviant) active (though possibly unreflexive) creation of and participation in the assembly of a subjective and contingent cyborg self, which includes points of resistance and acceptance; authorship and submission; expression and categorisation. Especially with a population of expert or at least fluent users of technology, this negotiation and management is likely to be a site for a lot of really interesting interactions, where constructions of deviance, criminality and self-identity are written, read and edited in real time]