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Do modern surveillance systems represent new systems of power?

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Do modern surveillance systems represent new systems of power? It has been suggested by various writers that modern surveillance systems do indeed represent a new system of power. In this essay, the previous systems of power that were in place will be discussed, and how surveillance systems have developed so that they can be seen as a new system of power. The way in which surveillance has been utilized over time is important to understand; this will also be examined. Firstly, a clear definition of what is meant, loosely, surveillance means (Abercrombie et al 2000) 'keeping watch over,' 'guarding' or supervising,' however, in sociology, surveillance has a more conceptual meaning and refers to the relationship between information and power. Surveillance systems are more often than not, used for the purpose of corporate companies, the state or an individual, the object that is generally been surveyed is an individual or organisation. Often, it is the nation state that conducts the surveillance, such as keeping information on the citizens of the nation state. It has previously been suggested (Lyon 1994) that there is a distinct relationship between information and power. As the use of surveillance increases, the amount of information available increases, thus the amount of information available to individual/groups/nations, which then increases the amount of power that is obtainable. ...read more.


discusses the importance of Gemeinschaft, which loosely translated means community. In pre-modernity societies, community and kinship were important to maintain social order. The use of surveillance systems have been increasing since the 19th Century when police first began patrolling 'the beat' (McLaughlin & Munice 2000) in order to reduce crime and in hope of becoming more accessible to the public. Moreover, by making a police presence felt, it could be suggested that this is one of the earliest forms of using surveillance as a system of power. The police are still used as a form of surveillance in the present day; however, this is an accepted form of surveillance and people do not largely see this as a system of power that infringes upon civil liberties and is there legitimatised, whereas, the afore mentioned monitoring of consumption patterns could be seen as hyper-surveillance (Boggard 1996). However, some sociologists (Rose 1989) argue that there has to be coercion within society for these types of surveillance to have effect. Rose (1989) discusses the way in which systems of social control, such as administration and record keeping, are only maintained by the co-operation of the population, Rose called these processes 'governing the soul'. Durkheim also argued that social order could only be maintained through a 'conscience collective.' ...read more.


It is now possible to put electronic tags on a person, therefore knowing where that person is at all times. Modern surveillance systems have been shown to be a relatively new system of power, albeit, previous systems of power did also include surveillance without the technical advancements that have been achieved, some writers (Orwell: 1949) had suggested that a totalitarian approach had been achieved. Modern surveillance system have shown to not always be as effective as we might think, even with the vast amount of technology that is available, surveillance systems have failed. There are still large amounts of benefit fraud and tax evasion remains undetected by the nation state. This shows that although surveillance systems have brought about changes in the way that power is obtained, it not always effective. As discussed previously, power can only be obtained through the agreement of the population, not just through surveillance. It is not possible to avoid surveillance, therefore, as the amount of information about you becomes available, Lyon (1994) would say, this leads to the more power that can be exerted over you. To conclude, it would be easy to consider that modern surveillance systems do indeed represent new systems of power, although, it has been shown that some of these surveillance systems have been know to fail. ...read more.

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