Tag Archives: Reification

FLICKr and Counter-Surveillance: Resistance or Reification?

Cory Doctorow posts on Boing Boing that two civil society organizations – The Open Rights Group and No2ID – are calling for British citizens to snap pictures of moments or things in their daily lives which capture the expanding nature of the surveillance society. The pics are to then be uploaded to a Flickr site.

Here’s an excerpt from The Open Rights Group’s website:

On 11 October, No2ID and the Open Rights Group will make a live collage of the images you’ve taken in a prominent location in London (to be confirmed), to celebrate Freedom Not Fear Day 2008.

Freedom not Fear is an international day of action for democracy, free speech, human rights and civil liberties, and events to celebrate these central tenets of a just society will be taking place all over the world.

Here’s how you can help:

  1. Spot something that embodies the UK’s wholesale transformation into the surveillance society/database state. Subjects might include your local CCTV camera(s), or fingerprinting equipment in your child’s school library
  2. Snap it
  3. Upload it to Flickr and tag it “FNFBigPicture” – please use an Attribution Creative Commons license* (this will allow them to have the pictures reproduced in news coverage)
  4. That’s it!

The rationale behind the project is to raise awareness about surveillance creep in our daily lives and presumably to call for more active forms of resistance. Yet it may also serve as a powerful tool of reification, the notion that in looking at objects we forget about the human relations that necessitated their emergence. Reification is problematic because when we objectify relations among subjects, we render the latter passive and determined, while investing the object(s) with mysterious formational powers. The danger of reification will likely be addressed for those who attend the event if we rightly assume that the groups behind it will talk about more than just the photographs but use them as a launching site for wider critical discussion. Yet for the millions more who are likely to experience this project only via Flickr it may have rather unintended consequences.  

Surveillance involves a complex configuration of political, economic, cultural and social practices with human relations behind them. The introduction of more CCTV cameras in public areas, wiretapping by the state, data mining by ISPs to detect suspicious behaviour or consumer preferences, data mining by pharmacists to protect us from adverse drug affects, or my use of Google alerts to help monitor the 24/7 news environment: all of these technologies and practices stem from the actions and decisions of human beings; without unpacking the dynamics in these social relations we risk intensifying the forms of alienation that have been generated by the ever-presence of surveillance in our lives.

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Filed under Everyday Life, Surveillance, Technology