Theorizing surveillance in crime control

AuthorGavin J.D. Smith,Dean Wilson,Kevin D. Haggerty
Date01 August 2011
Published date01 August 2011
Subject MatterArticles
Theoretical Criminology
Theorizing surveillance in
15(3) 231 –237
© The Author(s) 2011
crime control
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/1362480610396442
Kevin D. Haggerty
University of Alberta, Canada
Dean Wilson
University of Plymouth, UK
Gavin J.D. Smith
University of Sydney, Australia
Surveillance is conventionally perceived as a key component of the crime control
apparatus. This editors’ introduction to a Special Issue of Theoretical Criminology on
‘Theorizing Surveillance in Crime Control’ outlines both the need for new theorizing on
surveillance and some of the difficulties in doing so. It also introduces the seven pieces in
the Special Issue.
crime control, surveillance
Surveillance is often associated with policing and crime control, and this elective affinity
has inspired growing criminological interest. Surveillance, as a technology of gover-
nance, has been viewed as an integral feature of social control, disciplinary power and
modern subjectivities (Foucault, 1977, 1991; Cohen, 1985; Rose, 1999). It has also been
understood to be central to new forms of social organization based on computerization
and the decentralization of data flows, a process constitutive of what Deleuze (1992)
termed ‘societies of control’. Surveillance is also a component of new forms of crime
control and policing-at-a-distance, such as the shift to the ‘new penology’ which entails
the classification and management of groups by ascribed levels of risk and related calcu-
lations (Feeley and Simon, 1994; Ericson and Haggerty, 1997). The capacity of actuarial
Corresponding author:
Kevin D. Haggerty, Department of Sociology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6G 2H4

Theoretical Criminology 15(3)
justice is significantly amplified by the vast information storage and processing facilities
of contemporary computers.
Digitally facilitated practices such as profiling, mapping, modelling, simulation,
intelligence-led policing and pre-emption increasingly supplant conventional methods of
investigatory policing work such as manual note taking, post-crime evidence gathering
and personalized decision making. Visualizing and anticipating unknown futures has
become an important element of policing and security landscapes. Such changes depend
upon a steady supply of reams of information, something that can only be secured
through distributed practices of data collection, extraction and processing. Surveillance
measures are now woven into the fabric of everyday life, as we encounter cameras gaz-
ing at assorted urban spaces and entry points and anticipate the rollout of unmanned
drones to patrol territorial boundaries. Fingerprints, electronic tags, transponders, iris
scanning, photo ID, breathalizers, databases and DNA are just part of the surveillance-
related lexicon of contemporary security and crime control.
While scholars interested in the intersection between surveillance and crime are fre-
quently drawn towards the analysis of control, theoretical attention has also begun to
concentrate on new terrain. A wealth of recent scholarship that makes important theoreti-
cal contributions has explored the ambiguities of surveillance, strategies of resistance and
the specific security cultures within given surveillance systems (see Lianos, 2003; Lyon,
2006; Brighenti, 2007; Amoore and deGoode, 2008; Smith, 2008, 2012). The increasing
centrality of myriad forms of surveillance to the everyday functioning of modern institu-
tions, combined with the fascinating trajectory of work in the area of surveillance and
crime control—especially its inter-disciplinary nature and scope—make this a particu-
larly timely and significant topic for a special edition of Theoretical Criminology.
No theorizing of surveillance can sensibly commence without acknowledging the sus-
tained influence of Foucault’s (1977) panoptic model. Foucault’s theory of disciplinary
power, mobilizing Jeremy Bentham’s metaphor of utopian prison design (Bentham,
1995), suggested that the potential for observation was equally as important as observa-
tion itself. For Foucault, the panopticon was the template for distinctively modern con-
figurations of disciplinary power that relied on reshaping individual subjectivities
through the promise, if not the reality, of omniscient observation. Panoptic surveillance,
from this perspective, had both individualized and societal implications. While seeking
to reform individual subjectivities, surveillance also helped to fashion the temporal and
corporeal discipline required to produce an industrial workforce. The combined influ-
ence of the historical development of globalized...

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