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How and why is surveillance used in cities? To what extent is surveillance a just means of social control?

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Matthew Birkett December 2002 Tutor: Jo Massey How and why is surveillance used in cities? To what extent is surveillance a just means of social control? To be able to discuss the issue of surveillance, it is necessary to understand what is meant by surveillance. Surveillance literally means 'keeping watch over, guarding or supervising'. In the field of sociology, the word surveillance has a much more technical meaning, writers such as Foucault (1977), have often discussed how surveillance is a way to impose social control and order upon society. In society today, surveillance is widely used, particularly to monitor behaviour. In the city, the use and different forms of surveillance has increased immensely over the last thirty years. The use surveillance within the city dates back to the 19th century in the form of police surveillance. The police began walking 'the beat' in order to reduce crime and in the hope of being more accessible to the public. The practise of 'pounding the beat,' has continued to modern times, in cities such as Manchester, policing the streets is used for a variety of reasons. Primarily, the police is used for detecting crimes, deterring criminals from offending, and also to reduce the publics' fear of crime. Another reason of 'pounding the beat,' is to observe suspicious characters. ...read more.


The police monitored the CCTV system, the public approved of this, so long as the police and no outside agencies that were the observers. The system worked in Newcastle; the city was opened up by a newfound security that was felt through the CCTV. More arrests and conviction were made as a direct result of the CCTV.1 More recently, forms of 'hyper-surveillant control' have been developed; Boggard (1996) originally coined the term hyper-surveillant control. As a definition, hyper-surveillant control means, "Not just an intensification of surveillance, but the effort to push surveillance to the absolute limit." Boggard was referring to modern day society and included all types of surveillance, including the previously discussed and methods of surveillance, which are more recent, including monitoring consumption patterns when using credit or debit cards. When people use credit or debit cards, banks can monitor where, when, time, what they bought, and all this information is logged and stored. Moreover, every time a form is completed, information is given on all aspects of a person's life, once the form has been completed, the individual can never be clear what happens to the information. Furthermore, in this day of increasing consumerism, where more and more people are using the Internet, websites that have been viewed are stored and then tailor made advertising will appear on screen. ...read more.


This prison had no bars, but observation was the key to control, the wardens would be able to see every part of the prison, but the prisoners would not be able to see the wardens. Foucault suggested that the Panopticon worked because "it induced a state of conscious and permanent visibility that ensures the automatic functioning of power." As the prisoners are aware that they are being watched, it is said that their behaviour alters because of this. The Panoptic prison was never developed, however, Foucault does argue that the idea did have an influence on other institutions such as hospital, schools and factories. The Panoptic idea was an idea that social control could be enforced through complete surveillance. To conclude, surveillance is crucial within cities in order for social control to be maintained, but contrary to what some have argued, surveillance is not always the most essential ingredient in sustaining social control. Surveillance is a useful tool in the prevention and prosecution of crime, moreover, surveillance gives people the security that they require for them to feel safe from crime. People are willing to except that surveillance is inevitable, but are not will not except surveillance to encourage the extremes of social control where the 'all seeing eye' is developed and all aspects of social behaviour is controlled through the use of surveillance. ...read more.

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