It seems there are more watchers playing with Bentham’s Auto-Icon. Who are they? How many are there? Who is watching whom?
Does it sound familiar?…
It seems there are more watchers playing with Bentham’s Auto-Icon. Who are they? How many are there? Who is watching whom?
Does it sound familiar?…
The Brazilian geographer, Marcelo Lopes de Souza coined the word “phobopolis” (“fobópole” in Portuguese), to discuss the idea of generalised and banalised fear as well as the militarisation of the urban question. This is in line with other works about fear, paranoia and militarised spaces such as Zygmunt Bauman’s “Liquid Fear”, Stephen Graham’s “Cities under Siege: the new military urbanism”, or Lieven De Cauter’s “The Capsular Civilization: on the city in the age of fear”, among many others. Marcelo explains:
“Phobopolis (Port. fobópole) is a new word; it means city of fear. I introduced the concept in order to emphasise the degree of intensity in terms of violence and fear prevailing in some cities today.”
The disturbing perception of fear and the atmosphere of paranoia in contemporary cities are also captured and discussed in many films and novels. Sometimes very explicitly, others as a background for different stories, these issues are the focus in the feature film Neighbouring Sounds, directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho (Brazil, 2012). I will be the curator for one of the UCL Urban Lab film sessions on March 8th, when the film will be screened and followed by discussions with the audience and special guests.
The context used by Mendonça Filho gave me the idea for today’s message to Jeremy Bentham. The winds of global capitalism and recent economic prosperity brought about some complex clashes between modernity and a colonial culture of masters and servants in countries like Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and many other fast-growing emergent nations. Placemaking in these countries is a process marked by constant tensions in the simmering relations between the parties in an ever more complex social stratification. Upper and middle classes, working and low-income classes, dispute power and protagonism in the making of urban spaces and territories. Fear and paranoia contaminate the perception of “the others” and help defining commonalities and separations…
Another message based on territorial control and how boundaries are managed, sometimes by law and regulations, sometimes by negotiations between potential insiders and outsiders. Although the definition of a territorial boundary may not always involve a final agreement by all parts involved, there is a mutual recognition about the portion of the space being on dispute, and the possibilities for border and boundary interpretations. It’s a power struggle, so a dispute might go on for years and years without a consensus (see the cases of nation-states and disputes like the one between North and South Korea, Spain and Catalonia or the Basque Country, and so on).
Obviously, territorial control is not only about nation-states and disputes involving spatial jurisdiction and boundaries definition can happen in many different scales. In the article that served as an inspiration for today’s message, “The S.U.V. model of citizenship: floating bubbles, buffer zones, and the rise of the “purely atomic” individual”, Don Mitchell explains how much blurriness and confusion can exist when we try to understand these kinds of controversy. On his analysis of the relationship between territory and citizenship, Don starts with the case of a court ruling in the US which defined spatial buffers and bubbles around health clinics and people, respectively, in order to avoid forms of protests that include person to person interaction. Don explains that:
“The law creates two kinds of bubbles. First, it establishes a one-hundred-foot radius buffer zone around health clinic entrances. Second, within that buffer zone, it establishes an eight-foot floating bubble around each person who enters, a bubble that cannot be pierced for the purposes of politically charged conversation, leafleting, “education,” and so forth.”
This is a very interesting idea to explain some socio-spatial experiences and also resonates Sloterdijk’s theory that uses the metaphor of spheres and foams to engage in the debate of securitised spaces, fear and paranoia.
Last week, I had a very nice and informative walk around the City of London to “see” the boundaries and spatial control strategies for the ring of steel. I thank Henrietta Williams for kindly accompanying me and for explaining everything she knows about this famous urban territory, created in the 1990s to secure the financial core of London against, at that time, bomb attacks by the IRA.
Jon Coaffee has written many important papers describing the different material and immaterial (technological, political) strategies put in place at the Square Mile (one of the names by which the City is also known) since the 1990s to maintain the ring of steel in place, motivated by ever changing domestic and foreign threats to the security of the powerful businesses situated in this area.
Another interesting work I came across was one by Camilo Amaral on the (re)production of urban enclosures in London – “Urban Enclosure: Contemporary Strategies of Dispossession and Reification in London’s Spatial Production” (2015, unpublished) –, where he analyses various strategies for dispossession and land control in recent urban developments in the English capital. The idea of “tangled control” is particularly useful to understand the material and immaterial forms through which private corporations manage and take control of privatised public areas. It also helps us debate the limits between public and private spaces in the contemporary city. According to Camilo,
“The institution of multiple specific rules, with each place imposing a different set of use norms (such as prohibition of bikes, drinking, or the necessity of leaving a licence on a parking vehicle) transforms the city into an intertwined set of tangled orbits of hierarchy and control.”
I have been revisiting these and other works about securitising urban spaces because of my recent interest in territorial/boundaries control. This has been at the core of my recent work and I am trying to see if there’s any ground for comparison between what is happening in the UK and Brazil with regards to privatised public spaces and the territorial changes triggered by this swap in landownership. So, more to come in this theme soon…
Well, Panopticam is. Jeremy Bentham is still resting in peace (and in pieces) in his glass case (and some other parts of the UCL).
As we can see from the picture below, eyes of glass are open again. Anyway, it means I will be back with more messages shortly. Welcome back, Jeremy!
It looks like Jeremy can’t recover from his state of deep coma. There hasn’t been any twitter or youtube activity since last week. Unfortunately, if the Auto-Icon is in sleep mode, it means no messages from me.
I hope Panopticam comes back live again soon. I was enjoying my “conversations” with Jeremy, specially since I started to comment on the motivations and inspirations to each of the themes I was engaging with. In the end, it was a way of thinking about and divulging some important issues related to my work and personal interests.
Wake up, Jeremy!
“Terrorism” as a concept is a true black box and its definitions is freely and openly determined according to the convenience of certain state and corporate interests. It has become an excuse in current legal systems around the world – and, consequently, for police and border control forces – to skip citizen and human rights in investigations and check points, allegedly for the sake of “national security” – another obscure term.
In recent years, after the phenomenon of Wikileaks and, more recently, the Snowden revelations, we have witnessed the increase in the attempts to use terrorism-based law and regulations against journalists and whistleblowers. In one of the most notorious cases, David Miranda was detained for 9 hours at Heathrow airport during a trip from Germany to Brazil, after a meeting with filmmaker Laura Poitras. David Miranda has knowingly been helping her and journalist Glenn Greenwald in publishing the documents carefully released by Edward Snowden.
British officers used what is officially known as stop powers in schedule 7 of the UK Terrorism Act 2000. Apparently 85,000 travellers a year are “randomly” stopped at British ports and airports under this legal justification. And guess what are the allegations used by officers to invoque schedule 7? A suspicion of a person’s involvement in “terrorism”. Miranda appealed against his detention and yesterday the Court of Appeal’s ruling established that, although his detention was considered lawful, the powers contained in schedule 7 are flawed and that the Terrorism Act is incompatible with European convention on human rights. This is being seen by many, including Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden, as an important win for press freedom.
According to the ruling, the government and the parliament will have to re-examine the act and the (considered) broad definition of terrorism.
This is the first time it happens since I started “interacting” with Bentham’s Auto-Icon. When I arrived today to deliver the message, the glass case doors were shut and there was no signs indicating the reasons.
Luckily, Panopticam’s webcam stands outside, on the top of the case. So, although Jeremy’s eyes were shut by the closed doors, his cyborg electronic eyes were fully operational!
Today’s message was based on a fresh report by Humans Rights Watch on China’s Tibet Surveillance Programme, named by the Chinese authorities “Benefit the Masses”, which has been indefinitely extended. The report was flagged up on twitter by Malavika Jayaram from Harvard University.
This is part of a long term strategy to use infiltrated “spies” (“village-based cadre teams”) in the villages of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and minimize the chances of opposition to the Chinese influence in the region.
According to the report, “The official slogan used to describe the objective of the village-based teams is ‘all villages become fortresses, and everyone is a watchman.'”
Well, it seems poor Jeremy lost his “visual memory” for good. I can’t rely on the timelapse anymore, so I will try to keep coming the minute past the hour from now on…
Today’s message was an adapted version of the famous provocation by Marshal McLuhan, “the medium is the message”. I got this idea while reading the very interesting paper “‘The footage is decisive’: Applying the thinking of Marshall McLuhan to CCTV and police misconduct” by Richard Evans in the journal Surveillance & Society.
And I was joined again by my mysterious friends with Asian hats…
With this, I thought of making a link to the nice work being carried out by some members of LAVITS (Latin American Network of Surveillance, Technology and Society Studies) in the DroneHackademy, a project led by Fernanda Bruno and Pablo de Soto.
With the sudden mushrooming of these unmanned flying machines around the world, mainly meant for military actions (according to Rudolph Herzog, currently in the US, there is almost 1 drone for every 3 manned military aircraft), it’s good to see some people using it on the other way around, somehow “subverting” its surveillance/monitoring/military nature. According to their own definition, DroneHackademy:
“is a prototype of a hacktivist school, citizen science laboratory and critical theory platform for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as a social technology.”
This time I was surprised by the presence of two lovely young “collaborators”, holding a picture of me. They have been following this project and guessed the time I would appear with the message. Believe me, this was not previously arranged or staged. How cool is that?!
I wonder where did they get those hats from…
Inspiration today came from an interesting article by Lynn Stuart Parramore on the Lapham’s Quarterly, a suggestion posted on twitter by David Murakami Wood…
In her text, Parramore discusses how new labour biometric tracking resembles old forms of workplace surveillance from the dawn of capitalism. He cites Jeremy Bentham (and his influential brother, Samuel Bentham) to show how the panopticon had an impact on the creation and development of Taylorism as an instrument for productivism through a better shaped and “optimised” labour force (physically and mentally). New surveillance and control bionic technologies are meant to make workers, as Parramore titles her article, “happy all the time”, and obviously more productive!
No timelapse video from the Panopticam project today, so picture’s resolution is not great.
Obviously, this message was inspired by a phenomenon increasingly common in today’s urban world. Privatised areas with public pathways or of public interest (in some cases even previously owned by public authorities and sold or subject to concession as an agreement) have been mushrooming in medium and large cities around the world. London has been an attractive target to this kind of managerial practice for years and there are several areas of interest of the public around the city signposted as private land (see picture below).
These places are usually carefully monitored by private security personnel and rely on a great number of (many times very visible) surveillance and security technologies. Contracts and regulation restrict the number of activities that are and are not allowed in these areas. Group gathering, skate boarders, and long stays of certain individuals are among the “most feared” occurrences, and therefore commonly prohibited. There are many articles on newspapers and journal papers about this controversial option for the viability of urban land renovation. The Guardian published many of these (here, here and here), and also tried to build a database of privatised publicly used areas in the UK. This debate is also very alive around the building permissions for a private garden bridge, to be built between Temple and the South Bank, in London. As part of the agreement, if the plan goes ahead, visitors “will be tracked by their mobile phone signals and supervised by staff with powers to take people’s names and addresses and confiscate and destroy banned items, including kites and musical instruments.”
Fear of “the other”, or fear of “the unexpected” are common motivations for flooding these areas with exaggerated security and repulsive/aggressive behaviour. Today’s message was influenced by this kind of treatment to areas of public interest, implying that this is the same as to deny public space in its essence, and therefore to renounce the city.