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Democratic curiosity in times of surveillance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 January 2016

Jef Huysmans
Affiliation:
Professor of International Politics, Queen Mary University of London
Corresponding
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Abstract

Taking my cue from feminist curiosity and literature on the everyday in surveillance studies, I am proposing ‘democratic curiosity’ as a tool for revisiting the question of democracy in times of extitutional surveillance. Democratic curiosity seeks to bring into analytical play the social and political power of little nothings – the power of subjects, things, practices, and relations that are rendered trivial – and the uncoordinated disputes they enact. Revisiting democracy from this angle is particularly pertinent in extitutional situations in which the organisation and practices of surveillance are spilling beyond their panoptic configurations. Extitutional surveillance is strongly embedded in diffusing arrangements of power and ever more extensively enveloped in everyday life and banal devices. To a considerable degree these modes of surveillance escape democratic institutional repertoires that seek to bring broader societal concerns to bear upon surveillance. Extitutional enactments of democracy then become an important question for both security and surveillance studies.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© British International Studies Association 2016 

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References

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33 This ‘mismatch’ is not limited to surveillance. Analyses of transnationalising and globalising societal and economic relations have raised similar issues about the structuring of societal and economic power not fitting the territorialised institutional repertoires of democracy in states. See, for example, Kaiser, Karl, ‘Transnational relations as a threat to the democratic process’, in Robert O. Keohane and Joseph S. Nye (eds), Transnational Relations and World Politics (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), pp. 356370Google Scholar; Walker, R. B. J., Inside/Outside: International Relations as Political Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 143Google Scholar.

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59 Smith, ‘Exploring relations between watchers’, p. 292. A similar case for breaking down dyadic renditions of surveillance but more narrowly focused on multiplying the actors included in surveillance studies is made by Martin, van Brakel, and Bernhard. See Martin, Aaron K., van Brakel, Rosamunde E., and Bernhard, Daniel J., ‘Understanding resistance to digital surveillance: Towards a multi-disciplinary, multi-actor framework’, Surveillance & Society, 6:3 (2009), p. 217Google Scholar.

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62 Although the concept of ‘dispute’ as used here draws on Boltanski and Thévenot’s studies, I am not following the precise meaning they give to the concept, which in their use is explicitly focused on practices of justification. For the purpose of this article, I am more interested in developing the uncoordinated quality of disputes. See Boltanski, Luc and Thèvenot, Laurent, ‘The sociology of critical capacity’, European Journal of Social Theory, 2:3 (1999), pp. 359377CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Boltanski, Luc and Thèvenot, Laurent, De la justification. Les èconomies de la grandeur (Paris, Gallimard, 1991)Google Scholar.

63 Gilliom, John, Overseers of the Poor: Surveillance, Resistance, and the Limits of Privacy (Chicago, Chicago University Press, 2001)Google Scholar.

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65 ‘In the end, the everyday resistance seen among the Appalachian welfare poor formed a pattern of widespread behavior that produced or supported an array of important material and symbolic results, including cash and other necessities of survival, a status of autonomy, a potentially powerful collective consciousness of the struggle of welfare mothering, and a strategic opposition to and undermining of surveillance mechanisms.’ Gilliom, John, ‘Resisting surveillance’, Social Text, 23:2 (2005), p. 77CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

66 Nicholas de Genova makes a similar point in relation to undocumented migrants. de Genova, Nicholas, ‘The queer politics of migration: Reflections on “illegality” and incorrigibility’, Studies in Social Justice, 4:2 (2010), pp. 101126CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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70 Enloe, The Curious Feminist, p. 3.

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72 Dean, Jodi, Publicity’s Secret: How Technoculture Capitalizes on Democracy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002)Google Scholar.

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