New Media and the power politics of sousveillance in a surveillance-dominated world.

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Steve Mann
Joseph Ferenbok


In this paper we address the increasingly complex constructs between power, and the practices of looking, in a mediated, mobile and networked culture.  We develop and explore a nuanced understanding and ontology that examines veillance in both directions:  surveillance and oversight, as well as sousveillance and “undersight”.  In particular, we unpack the new relationships of power and democracy facilitated by mobile and pervasive computing.  We differentiate between the power relationships in the generalized practices of looking or gazing, which we place under the broad term “veillance”.  Then we address the more subtle distinctions between different forms of veillance that we classify as surveillance and sousveillance, as well as McVeillance (the ratio of surveillance to sousveillance).  We start by unpacking this understanding to develop a more specialized vocabulary to talk not just about oversight but also to talk about the implications of mobile technologies on “who watches the watchers”.   We argue that the time for sousveillance, as a social tool for political action, is reaching a critical mass facilitated by a convergence of transmission, mobility and media channels for content distribution and engagement. Mobile ubiquitous computing, image capture and processing, and seamless connectivity of every iPad, iPhone,  Android Device, wearable computer, etc., allows for unprecedented ‘on the ground’ watching of everyday life.  The critical mass of ‘sousveillant’ capable devices in everyday life may make the practice of sousveillance a potentially effective political force that.  Sousveillance can now challenge and balances the possibility for corruption that is inherent in a surveillance-only society (i.e. one that has only oversight without undersight).

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