cfp: Cultures of Surveillance

The conference is sponsored by The Film Studies Space: The Centre for the Cultural History of the Moving Image,

UCL (University College London), 29 September – 1 October 2011

Individual papers are invited from scholars and researchers in any discipline of the humanities, arts, social sciences, and sciences. Scholars from postgraduate to permanent senior academics are welcome to submit papers. Presentations would equally be welcomed from artists and filmmakers.

One-page abstracts for 20-minute presentations and a brief c.v. should be sent by Wed., 15 June to:

The Culture of Surveillance Conference Organisers
(Lee Grieveson, Rebecca Harrison, Jann Matlock, and Simon Rothon) at:

Participants will be notified by 30 June 2011

A conference publication is projected.

For more information on our projects, see http://www.autopsiesgroup.com and

Following an opening lecture by Professor Tom Gunning, The University of Chicago, on Thursday, 29 Sept. 2011, the Conference will take place on Friday and Saturday, 30 Sept. and 1 Oct. 2011.

We are being watched. The amazing part is that we are no longer even surprised by this. The culture of surveillance increasingly surrounds us in Europe where omnipresent CCTV cameras remind us that nothing escapes the invisible gaze of those behind the lens. At UCL, we have long been surveyed by our founder, Jeremy Bentham, who sits in a wooden case in the lobby and peers from glass eyes and a wax head: his own ‘icon’ body signals that he not only knew what surveillance meant but named it through his invention of the Panopticon. That imaginary device, which Bentham proposed would “help reform morals, preserve health, invigorate industry, diffuse instruction, and lighten public burdens,” continues to be a resonant touchstone for questions about the way governments and private agencies keep watch over our interests – and theirs. This conference, held where Bentham goes on watching both literally and metaphorically, proposes to explore, broadly, the interdisciplinary frameworks for understanding modern surveillance and, particularly, how surveillance practices intersect with visual technologies and histories of culture.

Our conference project emerges from an eagerness to think in new ways about surveillance practices as they intersect with culture, visual culture, and moving image studies. We start from the vantage point that there are many frameworks through which surveillance might be imagined today, ranging from the kinds of surveillance that entail keeping a friendly watch over each other to those represented by policing practices, government monitoring, and undercover investigations. Our call for papers likewise assumes that questions about surveillance have become central to today’s world, as states and cultures grapple with the complex dynamics of security and liberty and as corporations demand ever more precise data about the world’s populations. As a modern panoptical city, London stands at the centre of the shift away from a Cold War culture of surveillance toward the post-9/11 order of things. It has long been one of the centres for the development and deployment of surveillance practices ranging from census taking to identification methods (such as fingerprinting, photography, passports, and DNA typing). It has also served over the past two centuries as a crucial nexus for practices of culture that perpetuate – and often question – the work of both social surveillance and self-surveillance: for example, the novel, detective fiction, museums, and the BBC. Visual recording and representations have historically played a central role in surveillance practices throughout the industrialising world: printmaking, photography, the cinema, and televisual moving images have accompanied the rise of the modern police force and the development of security systems in public as well as private spaces. “Cultures of Surveillance” hopes to address these intertwined histories of surveillance, practices of governance, visual technologies, and cultural forms.

This conference is sponsored by UCL’s Film Studies Space, an interdisciplinary centre for the study of the cultural history of moving images. It derives from two ongoing research projects, The Work of Film, investigating the ways moving images have been utilised by states and corporations to guide the conduct of populations; and The Autopsies Project, examining the afterlife of material objects in relation to the history of consumer culture and cinematic memory. We hope that conference presenters will discuss a range of issues in the long history of surveillance practices, from photography to digital media. We anticipate contributions that analyse the myriad ways that visual culture has been enmeshed with political rationalities. We are keen to expand our frameworks far beyond the sphere of London and to look outside the Panopticon. We especially hope that contributions will find new ways of asking what it means to watch and to be watched, and to police and to be policed. We look forward to discussing ways that scholars of the humanities can interrogate the networks of surveillance that both protect and transform our world.

Topics might include but are not limited to:

  • Histories of surveillance technologies and their applications
  • The geo-politics of surveillance (in the 19th century? in Cold War culture? After 9/11?)
  • Architectures of surveillance – visibility and urban space
  • Film and television representations of surveillance / Film and the construction of public space
  • Photography and the police
  • Constructions of identity and surveillance methods (fingerprinting, passports, census taking)
  • The hidden objects of surveillance (cameras, tape recorders, transmitters, interceptors, tracking systems)
  • Histories and representations of objects associated with the collection, storage, and retrieval of personal data: from filing cabinets, paper shredders, computers …. (etc.)
  • The Obsolete Objects of Surveillance (i.e., objects of surveillance that have fallen out of use)
  • How do objects make visible personal data that is otherwise invisible?
  • Self-policing: how do we watch them watch us?
  • Technologies of the self and new media / Technologies of the self and dead media
  • Systems of meaning and truth under surveillance/ imaginary and real inventions for policing and detecting such as lie detectors, truth serums, mind reading
  • War-time surveillance: rationing and ration books, black market trading (representations and history)
  • Governmental efforts to educate citizens (e.g. road safety campaigns, anti-littering campaigns, anti-smoking campaigns, etc.), both in filmic representation or through tv and press media.
  • The gadgets of surveillance in spy films
  • The art of CCTV cameras / Cultural plays with CCTV
  • Watching cultures and Reality TV
  • The relationship of bodies to surveillance technologies.
  • The arts of documentary photography
  • Prison plans and texts
  • Watching you watching me: photography OF the police
  • Under-cover policing in Film Noir / Policing practices in tv crime series
  • Police procedurals (novelistic, cinematic, televisual)
  • Forensic science and the invention of modern vision
  • Panopticism and cinematic surveillance: theories, practices, and representations
  • The relationship between voyeurism and surveillance
  • New visibilities of surveillance / Changing temporalities and spaces of surveillance
  • Documentary (as) surveillance
  • Self-registration (tattoos, dog-tags) and rights
  • Neighbourhood watch, curtain twitchers, vigilante work: putting the everyday under surveillance
  • ‘Take back the night’ and women’s relationship to surveillance
  • The political economy of visual technology and surveillance
  • Advanced capitalism and (visual) cultures of surveillance
  • Surveillance regimes in comparative historical, national, and political contexts
  • Watching out for the future: surveillance technologies in science fiction
  • ‘They have me under surveillance’: Paranoia and modernity
  • Design technologies and panopticism / anti-panopticism
  • The aesthetics of surveillance
  • What can humanities scholars bring to current debates about surveillance?
  • How can film studies contribute to debates about surveillance culture?

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