the culture and values of social media

Social Surveillance in Every Day Life

Posted: May 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Conferences, privacy, publications | Tags: | No Comments »

I’m lucky to be in Toronto this weekend, interacting with amazing colleagues like Chris Soghoian, Priscilla Regan, Leslie Regan Shade, Lee Tien, Finn Brunton, David Phillips, David Lyon, and too many others to mention. We’re all here for the Cyber-Surveillance in Everyday life workshop, sponsored by the Surveillance Studies Centre at the University of Toronto.

Today I presented a new paper draft, The Public Domain: Social Surveillance In Everyday Life. In this paper, I lay out a theoretical framework for looking at social surveillance, and present some places where it’s useful for analysis (namely, Facebook stalking, context collapse, and lifestreaming).

Marwick, Alice. (2011). “The Public Domain: Social Surveillance In Everyday Life”. Cyber-surveillance in Everyday Life, Toronto, May 12-15. [PDF]

Abstract: A profile on a social network site or a Twitter account is created and constructed against the background of an audience—as something to be looked at. This paper argues that the dual gaze of social surveillance—surveying content created by others and looking at one’s own content through other people’s eyes—is a normative part of constant ongoing social media use. Social surveillance is distinguished from “surveillance” along four axes: power, hierarchy, symmetry, and individuality. Based on ethnographic work in the San Francisco technology scene from 2008-2009 and amongst teenagers in the Southeastern United States in 2010, I look at this surveillance, how it is practiced, and its impact on people who engage in it. I use Foucault’s concept of capillaries of power to demonstrate that social surveillance assumes the power differentials evident in everyday interactions rather than the hierarchical power relationships assumed in much of the surveillance literature. Social media involves a collapse of social contexts and social roles, complicating boundary work but facilitating social surveillance. Individuals strategically reveal, disclose and conceal personal information to create connections with others and protect social boundaries. These processes are normal parts of day-to-day life in communities that are highly connected through social media.

We had a lively debate in the presentation about whether or not this model of “social surveillance” renders the term so widely as to be useless (which I obviously disagree with). In my dissertation, I began theorizing how widespread lifestreaming affects self-presentation and subjectivity, with regard to the internalization of the expectation that people are watching. I think the surveillance literature is a very useful place to continue this theory; I’d be interested to hear what others think.

This is a draft; I’ll be revising and submitting to Surveillance & Society post-haste.