Surveillance Studies and the Surveilled Subject

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Saulnier, Alana
Surveillance Studies , Identity , Defining Surveillance , Surveilled Subject , Procedural Justice , Pearson International Airport
Surveillance studies has been somewhat inattentive to the perspective of the surveilled subject. It is the functioning of the surveillance apparatus, not the relatively inconsequential subject, which has tended to frame the focus of surveillance inquiries; leaving understandings of surveilled subjects’ experiences relatively limited. This research addresses this gap in the literature, exploring ways in which surveillance studies might understand the surveilled subject with greater consistency. Participants (N=47) shared their encounters with and perceptions of surveillance in a specific (Pearson International Airport) and general (everyday life) context through semi-structured interviews. The findings suggest that surveilled subjects’ encounters can be understood with some consistency – characterized by consistent criteria across subjects and contexts, and through a consistent theoretical framework across subjects in a specific context. However, consistency should not be confused with uniformity; encounters with surveillance must also be recognized for the extent to which they are nuanced and situated. For example, as this study also highlights, participants’ perceptions of encounters with surveillance at Pearson International Airport were differentially distributed in relation to identity characteristics (particularly minority status).
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