CCTV beyond surveillance: Being captured in contemporary Britain

funded by the German Research Council 

Since the late 1990s, surveillance studies have made significant contributions to the scientific and public discussion about safety, surveillance and security. The trope of the surveillance camera has already been discussed in this context. From a cultural studies point of view, it has, however, not been sufficiently researched which reactions surveillance cameras evoke in British society concerning narrativations that are experiential and sentimental – in contrast to studies concerning the ubiquitious use of surveillance technology in the spy, thriller and crime genres. The entry point of the  research project is the claim that the cultural status of surveillance cameras and their images expresses itself especially in narrativations and their aestheticizations which go beyond the spy and thriller genres.

The images and the technical structure of the surveillance camera network increasingly evoke narration. Through narratives, life-worlds are interpreted and events become useful for the construction of meaning. Narrations form imaginations and subject constitutions. Apart from the use of surveillance images in the public sphere, it is their narrativations that express subject imaginations and actor constellations between humans and things in a society of control. Focusing on the political and cultural artefact of the surveillance camera and its images provides an entry point that enables cultural studies research to establish a methodological node for researching questions regarding the cultural practices in a society of control. Surveillance cameras are not only the actual instruments of the ever present surveillance in public space, but they also seem to act as an allegorical figure for the society of control. Newer studies however lament the missing interaction between artistic appropriations of surveillance technologies and surveillance studies, which are mostly oriented towards the empirical social sciences. It is in this area that the planned research project wants to show areas of possible interaction, to develop research methods and to theorize new insights. In order to reach this goal, it is necessary to go beyond conventions in cultural studies that interpret cultural artefacts connected to surveillance as representations of social imaginations about surveillance. The proposed research project wishes to produce new insights about cultural and aesthetic practices with surveillance technology and its artefacts as a part of the cultural condition of the present. Significantly, this addresses the question of agency in the visually surveyed life-world, which finds its expression in its aestheticization and practices of representation. To research the cultural processing of these technologies, the context of the narrativity evoking capacity of surveillance camera images (comp. Levin 2001) is a central aspect that needs to be investigated. Focusing on British cultural production serves a twofold aim of the research project: To contribute to British cultural studies while, at the same time, to analyze the more general relevance of surveillance cameras in cultural practices by studying a highly paradigmatic constellation.

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