Making surveillance messy: a conceptual discussion

Ball, Kirstie; Spiller, Keith; Dibb, Sally; Meadows, Maureen and Daniel, Elizabeth (2010). Making surveillance messy: a conceptual discussion. In: Fourth Biannual Surveillance and Society/SSN Conference, 13-15 Apr 2010, City University, London, UK.



This paper introduces the concept of ‘messiness’ to theorise the dynamics, tensions, interactions and conflicts inherent in compliance, or otherwise, within surveillance regimes. Going beyond the surveillant assemblage (Haggerty & Ericson 2000), and highlighting other shortcomings in surveillance theory, we propose that ‘messiness’ has the potential to reveal much about surveillance-in-action from a local perspective. We illustrate our argument by exploring two contrasting government surveillance initiatives which gather consumer data from private sector organizations in the financial services and travel sectors: E-Borders and Anti-Money Laundering/Counter Terror Finance. More broadly, and drawing on Sewell and Barker (2006), we argue that organizations are rich and diverse sites for understanding the dynamics of compliance with surveillance.

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