Abstract - The Information Society 25(2)

Phenomenology and Surveillance Studies: Returning to the Things Themselves

Norm Friesen, Andrew Feenberg and Grace Smith

In response to the increasingly quotidian, even banal character of surveillant practices in post-industrial societies, this paper explores the possibility of a theoretical and methodological re-alignment in surveillance studies. This re-alignment entails a move from broadly Foucauldian, macro-level, structural or post-structural analyses, to the existential-phenomenological study of subjective consciousness and experience. This piece illustrates such an experiential study by taking part of Sartre’s famous description of “the look,” and comparing it to a similarly experientially-based description of an everyday context of surveillance –specifically, a bank machine or ATM transaction. Through the analysis of these descriptions, the piece shows how the study of the lived experience of surveillance highlights the role of the body, of social convention and also of individual agency in surveillant practices that can be overlooked in other analyses.


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