The Quantified Self by Deborah Lupton: A Brief Summary

‘This book is about contemporary self-tracking cultures, analysed from a critical sociological perspective. It explores how the practices meanings, discourse, and technologies associated with self-tracking are the product of broader social cultural and political processes.’

This summary is really just some extended notes I took on the book as self-tracking and the quantified self are concepts which interest me.

It’s an academic book, written for an academic audience, and probably way beyond most A-level sociology students, but it’s still fascinating, and relevant as the practice of self-tracking is a growing trend.

Definition of self-tracking: ‘monitoring, measuring and recording elements of one’s body and life as a form of self-improvement and self-reflection’. Commonly using digital technologies.

Chapter 1 – Know Thyself: Self-Tracking Technologies and Practices

The emergence of self-tracking

Covers the pre-digital origins of the practice, a few examples of some self-tracking obsessives, outlines the self-tracking movement and charts the recent growth and ‘mainstreaming’ of the practice.

Contemporary self-tracking technologies

Provides an overview of the most common areas of social life to which self-tracking is applied – everything from education to emotions and from individual health to the home.

Research on self-tracking

  • A brief overview of research on self-tracking (going up to 2013-15): most of the studies are conducted by market research companies, there are few academic studies and focus on health.
  • From this research we find that in 2014, fitness bands were the most popular, and white middle class men with high levels of education and technological know how seem to be the most involved.
  • Academic research has revealed strong positive views about self-tracking among most self-trackers, with a measure of scepticism about how their personal data might be used. There is also evidence of strong ethos of self-responsibility (the neoliberal subject).

Chapter 2 – New Hybrid Beings: Theoretical Perspectives

Because self-tracking is a complex process, we should seek to understand it from multiple perspectives. This chapter outlines theoretical perspectives (in bold below) on self-tracking

Sociomaterial perspectives:

  • Datafication via digital devices is a fundamental aspect of selfhood today.
  • People invest digital technologies with meaning, and we need to understand these meanings to understand people’s identities.
  • Individual human actors should be understood as part of an assemblage that consists of (besides humans), digital devices, software and networks.
  • Code/ space is another concept that’s been developed to capture the hybridity of human-technological networks
  • G. our objects may govern our access to space (e-tickets)
  • Draws on actor-network theory.

‘Knowing capitalism’

  • A concept developed by Nigel Thrift to denote the way that capitalism has shifted from commodifying workers’ physical labour to profiting from the data they generate and upload.
  • This is in the context of a big data economy, there is a lot of money to be made from data-driven insights.
  • In the age of prosumumption, people upload this information for free, why social media sites are generally free, because it is the data that has value.
  • The four big tech companies need to be taken into consideration, due to the sheer amount of data they have access to, they have power.
  • Fluidity is key to metaphors used to describe the digital data economy.
  • HOWEVER, data can become frozen, stuck if people do not know how to use it.
  • Data can have a determining influence on people’s life chances
  • When data is rendered 2D it is frozen.
  • When data is represented, it is a result of social processes, we need to ask about who has made the decision to represent data in particular ways.

Self-tracking and the neo-liberal subject

  • Foucault’s concepts of selfhood, governmentality via biopolitics and surveillance are especially relevant to understanding the social significance of self-tracking.
  • In contemporary western societies, the dominant idea is that ‘care of the self’ is an ethical project that the individual is responsible for – the ‘good citizen’ sees the self as a project to worked on, they don’t expect much from the state or other people in society.
  • Giddens, Beck and Bauman have focused on how the self has become individualised – society is full of uncertainties, and lots of choices, and it is down to the individual to do the work to make those choices (and take responsibility for making the right choices).
  • The ‘self’ in today’s society is one which must be constantly re-invented – improved in order to be a success.
  • There is a dominant discourse of morality surrounding self-improvement – people are expected to do it!
  • The psy disciplines have become increasingly popular today because they fit this era of self-responsibility.
  • Despite the focus on the individual, power is still at work through these practices and discourses of the self. They fit in well with neoliberalism, which depends on soft modes of governing rather than hard – the former basically being everyone controlling themselves because they have taken responsibility for themselves and themselves only.
  • Discourses of self-improvement and the focus on the individual ignore the role of structural factors (class, gender, ethnicity) in shaping people’s lives and the problems they may face during their lives.
  • Self-tracking fits in with this neoliberal discourse of self-responsibilization.

Cultures of Embodiment

  • The way we understand our bodies is culturally, socially and historically contingent.
  • Digital devices offer people numerous ways for people to ‘digitise’ their bodies, and thus we are changing the way we think of our bodies.
  • Digital technologies mean people are starting to think of their bodies visually (the screen body) rather than haptically (to do with touch). Rather than rely on their ‘fleshy’ feelings they rely on the more ‘real’ visually represented data.
  • Self-tracking practices may be viewed simply as another set of technologies through which individuals seek to control their bodies.
  • Foucault’s concept of biopower is a useful analytical tool to explore digitised bodies: it emphasises how the body is a site of struggle.
  • Biopower is subtler than traditional forms of power and control – it focuses on the disciplines of self-management and control.
  • In the discourse of self-tracking, those who can control their bodies are ‘moral’, those who cannot are deficient.
  • Theories of boundary maintenance and purity (a la Mary Douglas) are also relevant: and we need to keep in mind that the boundary between the body and the social in digital space is less clear than ever.
  • Data tracking technologies render what was previously hidden about our bodies much more visible, and subject to greater control (but by whom>?).
  • NB – much of the way the body is visually represented is quantitatively – biometrics are largely quantitative, and this data can be used as a basis for inclusion and exclusion.

Datafication

  • ‘Critical data studies’ have emerged to challenge the claims of big data being ‘all positive’
  • The process of datatification = rendering complex human feelings and relationships into digital data. This typically involves metricization, which involves numbers
  • This makes complex and diverse humans ‘easily comparable’ and this formed the basis of control through normalization in the 19th century, it seems to be even more central to contemporary strategies of biopower.
  • Data collected is often quite narrow (e.g. think about education) and is often used by powerful agencies to control and manipulate people. However this is not a neutral process: value judgements lie behind what data is collected and how it is used.
  • We are entering into a world in which biopower and the knowledges which underpin them are increasingly digitised. Such data are frequently presented as neutral, more reliable than individual subjective data, and thus forming a more robust basis for ‘truth claims’.
  • Datafication offers a late modern promise of rendering messy populations understandable and controllable.
  • Algorithmic authority is increasingly important in identity construction and governing inclusion to areas of social life.
  • It is also sometimes difficult to challenge, given that the algorithms are often black-boxed.
  • Dataveillance = veillance which uses digital technology.

Dataveillance and Privacy

  • The generation of more data increases the opportunities for monitoring.
  • Veillance is Lupton’s preferred term – because there are multiple types of watching in society.
  • Some obvious forms of surveillance include CCTV and Passports, but Foucault’s idea of the panopticon is probably the most relevant to understanding veilance today – where people take on responsibility for controlling their own actions because they ‘might’ be being watched.
  • Veillance is extremely pervasive and works across multiple sites simultaneously and can be purposed and repurposed in multiple ways.
  • It is increasingly used as a means of categorising – often based on risk.
  • Sousveillance is increasingly important.
  • There is no longer a clear spatial boundary between public and private…. Some commentators have even suggested that the internet = the end of privacy.
  • We need to ask lots of questions about data ownership and usage rights.

 

Chapter 3 – ‘An Optimal Human Being’:  The Body and Self in Self-Tracking Cultures

The reflexive monitoring of the self

  • analysis of interviews with two self-trackers reveals a discourse of self-awareness and self-improvement facilitated by self-tracking technology.
  • The data used is mainly quantitative and individuals seek greater understanding by finding patterns in their lives.
  • There is always a focus on ‘becoming’ – present data is interpreted in light of a desired future (very goal-oriented).
  • There is a focus on individual self-knowledge within the movement, which some have viewed as narcissistic.
  • There is a strong ethic of self-responsibility, and an implication that those who don’t seek to improve their lives through self-tracking are morally incomplete.
  • Self-tracking selves thus seem to be neoliberal subjects.
  • The concept of the self fits well with digital entrepreneurialism, especially where the tracking of productivity is concerned.

Representations of embodiment

  • Metaphors of the body as a machine and specifically as an information processing machine are often employed in self-tracking cultures.
  • Inputs/ outputs/ performance are all parts of the discourse.
  • ‘I can therefor I am’ is also part of the discourse of selfhood (Lury 1997)
  • Digital wearable devices are viewed as ‘prosthetics’ (data prosthetics) – enhancing the capacity to act in a similar way to prosthetic limbs. E.g. videos of life loggers expand the human capacity to remember.
  • The prosthetics also extend the body into a network of other bodies…. E.g. through the representation of data in social networks.
  • It becomes increasingly unclear where the body ends and environmental space (‘out there’) begins (code/space is a new concept to describe this).

The affective dimensions of self-tracking

  • Self-tracking devices and software and the data they generate are invested with a high degree of personal meaning.
  • Obviously, the devices themselves, especially phones, matter to us, and the data collected through these devices is part of our lives, part of our biography: it is ‘my data’.
  • We use these data (images, stats etc to ‘present ourselves’ and engage in ‘algorithmic self-promotion’.
  • NB Even the way we organise our apps has personal meaning.
  • A more over affective dimension is where apps actually track our emotions.
  • The data generated by self-tracking and the responses this gets when presented also generates emotions – from satisfaction to frustration.
  • Those who do not self-track may be perceived as immoral because of not taking the responsibility to control their lives. (There is a barely hidden discourse of morality in the movement)
  • Emotions also come into the fact that devices sometimes measure what they are supposed to effectively, and sometimes don’t work at all – they tie people’s emotional states into the robustness of the material devices.
  • Wearable devices also affect people’s emotional states differently – if they make them feel more self-conscious, this may not be in a good way: some may feel ‘fitter’, others may feel fatter.
  • There are also design and fashion to consider – many people won’t wear devices if they don’t look good.

Taking and losing control

  • Part of the discourse of self-tracking is one of using data to gain greater control over one’s life.
  • This fits in well with the uncertainty of late modern society – data collection and using it is a means of reducing risk: in terms of poor health or broken relationships for example.
  • This is most advanced in the sphere of medicine and health where the concept of the ‘participatory patient’ is well established – many patients are expected to engage in a routine of data collection and monitoring, along with their Doctors.
  • However, this effectively brings the body under surveillance as never before: the technologies used may be talked about as ‘inobtrusive, but the effects are to foreground the body through the data collected.
  • Some ex self-trackers report they gave up because data ‘took over’ their lives, drowning out their intuition.
  • Others reported they gave it up as they found they were only happy when their numbers were trending upwards.
  • And if you don’t have your device, you might regret it…
  • Some people also change their habits because of their devices, not necessarily in good ways – eating foods because it fits your diet regime and not actually enjoying the food!
  • Self-tracking may be a terrible idea for those with OCD or anorexia.

 

Self-Tracking and Surveillance

  • Self-tracking and the data generated by it blur the boundary between the public and the private.
  • Especially when we publish our data on networking sites, our private data becomes public.
  • The practice of self-tracking is typically done as part of an assemblage – tracking of ‘intimate’ information, displayed in public.
  • There is a positive side to all of this – gamifying one’s data can be motivational, as can messages of support from others.
  • We need to consider that some forms of tracking may be imposed from above, and users have little choice over engaging in the practice
  • Finally, there are the political implications of how our data is stored and used!

 

Chapter 4 – You Are Your Data: Personal Data, Meanings, Practices and Materialisations

Covers the ways in which self-trackers seek to make sense of, materialise and use their personal information.

The meaning and value of personal digital data

  • Self-tracking is not only about controlling one’s body and one’s self, but controlling the data generated by self-tracking.
  • Data assemblages are constantly shifting, and the data drawn upon is context dependent. They are also reflexive and recursive – people may act on the data, and those changes in action change the data.
  • Even though certain data assemblages may provide a snap shot, frozen, the data are liquid entities, constantly shifting, and this requires self-trackers to engage in constant meaning negotiation to make sense of the data and the selves those data represent.
  • The Quantified Self Movement says this is one of its primary purposes – to help people make better sense of the data – as they see it, collecting it is easy, making sense of it a life skill which needs practice/ training.
  • There is a sense in which the data is more reliable than gut feeling or memory.
  • Personal Analytics (according to QS) will help us develop optimal selves often defined as us becoming more efficient/ productive.
  • There is a ‘big data mind set’ – we can get new insights from this data that was not previously available – e.g. I can look at my phone and see how stressed I am.
  • Self-trackers often present themselves as scientists, collecting their own data, the digitized an information processing system
  • The data is often presented as trustworthy, and the body’s perceptions as untrustworthy.
  • This fits in with a long held medicalized view of the body, the only difference now is that we are visual not haptic and data is available to the layman, not just the expert.
  • The data is seen as emblematic of their ‘true selves’.

Metricization and the Lure of Numbers…

  • Quantification is central to the quantified self discourse.
  • More and more areas of social life have become quantified in recent years (obviously?)
  • Although data is presented as neutral, there is a ‘politics’ to quantification.
  • The rationales of both commerce and government are supported by datafication – publics are rendered manageable by data: BIG DATA allows for people to be managed algorithmically.
  • ‘Comensuration’ is a result of metricization…. This is the process whereby a broader range of previously different social phenomena are brought together under one metric – thus the process favours homogeneity over heterogeneity – – e.g. the Klout score.
  • Such metrics create ‘climates of futurity’.
  • These metrics invariably favour some qualities over others.
  • Viewing the self through such data/ metrics encourages one to take a scientific/ comparable, and reductionist view of life…
  • This cuts out the experience of (real?) life as messy/ complex/ contradictory.

Data Spectacles: Materializations of Personal Data

  • Visualising data is an integral part of the Quantified self-movement. A lot of these data visualizations are very ‘neat’.
  • Most self-trackers derive pleasure and motivation from seeing their data visualised
  • They also see the data as ‘more real’ than their own subjective feelings.

Artistic and Design Interventions

  • Artists/ designers have tried to enhance/ challenge the way self-trackers visualize their data.
  • FRICKBITS – invited self-trackers to turn their data into art
  • The ‘Dear Data’ projected invited women to physically draw an aspect of their ‘data lives’ once a week.
  • Lucy Kimbell’s LIX index took data from various aspects of her life, and turned them into one index to criticise self-tracking
  • Critical making and design fiction aim to combine critical theory and art/ fiction. Their purpose is to envisage alternative futures (that are not necessarily either utopian or dystopian) – to challenge dominant power/ knowledge regimes/ discourses.
  • These may be messier/ more ambiguous than many of the representations of current data and imagined futures made by self-tracking communities.
  • Outlines a few projects which have sort to get us thinking about the boundaries between self/machine, and how these are shifting in assemblages.
  • 3D Printers are also being used to visualise data.
  • Data is also being used to produce things, based on data.

The Importance of Context

  • There is growing cynicism about the use of numbers in self-tracking, because it is often not clear what numbers mean (e.g. a high heart rate can mean different thing) – we thus need to know the context in which the data is collected.
  • ‘Morris’ (blog) is a good example of how context and quality may be more useful – he took thousands of photos of his daily routine, on reviewing them he said he started to recognise more people on his daily commute, feeling more connected to them.
  • Presenting self-data is an important aspect, this is context, emotional.
  • Data collected and then presented back might conjure up uncomfortable emotions… e.g Eric Myer’s Facebook Year in Review experience.
  • Self-trackers are also self-qualifiers… they use the data to tell stories about themselves.

Chapter 5 – Data’s Capacity for Betrayal: Personal Data Politics

Covers the political dimension of self-tracking data (who stores the data, what they do with that data and how they benefit).

Exploited self-tracking

  • Self-tracking practices generate digital biocapital (value derived from a combination of bodies and data)
  • The generation and storage of this data is now beyond the consensual and the personal and this raises all sorts of questions pertaining to who should have access to this data and its use…. Much of which has been highlighted by the recent Facebook scandal.
  • Digital biocapital also raises the spectre of governments and corporations being able to algorithmically manipulate people.
  • Prosumption is a form of work… the value people derive from generating the data not monetary, but the data is commodified and then has a monetary value… this is exploitation.
  • Employers data trawl prospective employers
  • Insurance companies are already using predictive algorithms to set premiums
  • Data is being used in some legal cases.

Pushed and imposed self-tracking

  • Although self-tracking is usually presented as something voluntary, there are some fields where the practice is used ‘coercively’ – where institutions use self-tracking to ‘nudge’ (often unwilling) participants’ behaviour in a ‘desirable’ direction.
  • It is mostly in the sphere of health that we find this.
  • This fits in well with soft power in neoliberal regimes.
  • One example is insurance companies getting people to upload their health data (also driving).
  • Another is Corporations offering reduced health insurance packages for employees who enrol in their wellness programmes.
  • There is a fine line between consensual, pushed and imposed self-tracking.

Personal data security and privacy

  • Written before GDPR – ‘many companies fail to tell customers how their data will be used’.
  • Personal information is very sort after by criminal gangs who can gain access to it at two main points – data transfer, and when data is stored on online databases.
  • Survey data show that people are generally OK with their data being used for beneficial purposes but are suspicious of and worried about the use of data by governments and corporations to manipulate people, and of the fact that their data may be used to exclude them.

Communal self-tracking and taking control of personal data

  • Some in the quantified self movement talk of ‘pooling’ their small data so as to gain big data insights.
  • (Small data is personal and identifiable, big data as impersonal and anonymous).
  • Nafus and Sherman (2014) have theorised that this can be a form of resistance against control of big data by large companies.
  • A very small pool of experts can create their own means of dealing with their data, most people are dependent on commercial products.
  • Some self-tracking initiatives encourage collective positive projects – e.g. environmental, collective steps, hours meditated. This could be a new form of digital citizenship moving forwards.

Responses and resistances to dataveillance

Outlines three counter responses…

  • Selectively recording information (the power of forgetting)
  • Obfuscation – deliberately generating false data or digital noise.
  • Making people aware of the sheer amount of data being collected.

Final Reflections

More detailed summary: chapter 1 (NB – find points of interest and think of the questions I can ask, to then find further research on (reorganising this!)

Self-tracking cultures have emerged in a sociocultural and political context in which various rationales, discourses, practices and technologies are converging… these include the following:

  • A self-concept that values self-knowledge and entrepreneurialism
  • The privileging of quantitative scientific knowledges seen as neutral
  • A moral imperative to take responsibility for the regulation and tight control of one’s body
  • Digital technologies which allow the recording of more aspects of life in ever greater detail
  • A digital data economy which commodifies personal data
  • Governments and commercial agencies seeking to use data to manipulate behaviours.

The notion of autonomous individualism is central to many self-tracking cultures – the individual is seen as being morally responsible for rationally improving their own well-being. Little account is taken of the role of structural factors (poverty, discrimination) in affecting life chances.

Technologies tend to have been designed by white middle class men in the global North, and the decisions about what to measure through tech reflects their bias – for example the Apple Watch does not track menstrual cycles.

At the same time as being reductive, the process of generating self-knowledge is also productive – it is an active process which gives rise to new knowledges, and people use them to ‘improve the self’.

How self-tracking knowledge changes power relations is not clear – presumption means lay people can track and present data, which challenges the role of the big tech companies. However, producers of data have little control over it once it has been generated and uploaded to social media sites.

Self-tracking practices are now mainstream, and way beyond just in the realms of health and fitness.

Lupton has identified five ‘modes’ of self-tracking:

  • Private
  • Pushed
  • Imposed
  • Exploited

The differences are to do with the extent of consent and the purposes for which data is used.

Data devices are learning more about humans. Some of them already tell us what to do. This makes future assemblages more complex – once the world of the Internet of Things really kicks into gear!

Data Literacy is a common thing today, but we need to focus more on getting people to think about the power relations between the users of tech and the designers who make them, and commercial and governmental agencies involved.

There are many new positive uses to which self-tracking might be put, and the penultimate few paragraphs outline some of these – such as ‘empathy’ projects and creative projects.

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The State COULD be watching you: and other lessons from #Hunted

In case you’ve been living in the dark-ages and missed it (like me) Hunted is a T.V. show in which ordinary individuals take on the role of fugitives on the run from ‘Hunters’ who take on the role of agents of the state (think of MI6 meets special ops).

Hunted C4

The latest C4 series kick-started with 9 individuals (although 6 of them paired-up, so really just 6 targets) bailing from a van in Manchester city center, and then spreading out to the four corners of the UK. If they can evade the Hunters for 25 days, the survivors each get a share of £100K.

The ‘Hunters’ consist of some serious (and not particularly pleasant, although that may be dramatic license) intelligence professionals based in  London HQ, who steer a number of ground-teams, some of whom are the ‘Hunters’ who are empowered to ‘arrest’ the fugitives, and some of whom are just covert surveillance operatives who aren’t allowed to reveal their identity.

I must say, I caught the second half of episode 5/6 entirely accidentally during a Thursday evening channel hopping session last week, and enjoyed it so much I binged-watch the entire series over the next couple of days.

At time of writing (5 episodes in to a series of 6), 4 out of the 6 targets have been captured by the Hunters using a variety of surveillance and closure tactics, and 3 remain: because one original pairing has split up.

Despite enjoying the show, I couldn’t help but do a little sociological analysis:

Sociological Observations of Hunted

We may as well start with the obvious – YES the state has deeply-penetrating powers of surveillance.

Without giving too much away, the ‘Hunters’ use the following techniques to track down the fugitives:

  1. CCTV – obviously
  2. Bank card transactions which PING an alert at hunter HQ as soon as they’re used (should’ve used steem)
  3. Phone taps – some of the fugitives use ‘burner phones’ to avoid detection, the problem being that as soon as they ring someone in their network, the Hunters have that burner phone on record and can tap it.
  4. Bugging computers – the Hunters are allowed access to the fugitives’ network to interview them and use USBs to hack into their computers so they can take control of them (whether this happens in real-life, I don’t know)
  5. Car tracking devices.
  6. Analysis of the fugitives’ social media profiles.
  7. Network analysis – this actually proves to be the most important aspect of tracking people down, simply analyzing the network of family and friends and focusing surveillance on these is what typically leads the ground teams to the fugitives.

Secondly – the show demonstrates the extent to which we live in a ‘Network Society’

The Hunters have access to the fugitives’ phone and social media records, which clearly show the fugitives’ recent life-histories mapped out, and, crucially for most of the captures, the ‘densest’ lines of communication within those networks.

With some of the individual fugitives, we really get to see the ‘strength of weak ties’ – especially the guy who is ‘Deputy Mayor of Sheffield’, whose network is huge. However, there is one person who stands out, and this is what gets him caught in the end.

With the three pairs, what is further apparent is that all of them have quite different personal networks, despite being very close to each-other, which really goes to show to complexity of networks in contemporary Britain.

Hunted2.png
The Network Analysis which ultimately led to the capture of the Deputy Mayor of Sheffield. 

Thirdly – the show demonstrates dramatically the continued importance of local and family connections

Interestingly, MOST of the fugitives return to their home turf, and most to the support of their local friends and families – so it is clearly not correct to say that our networks are free-floating and virtual – our meaningful relationships are still very grounded.

Finally – it gives us a nice insight into Multi-cultural Britain!

I don’t know if it was a deliberate ploy of this year’s recruiters to demonstrate British multiculturalism, but it’s very interesting to note that 2/6 targets were African Immigrants, all from different countries: it’s actually quite rare to get such an in-depth insight into the back-stories of black-Britons, quite a nice escape from the usual, generalized tokenistic representations we get in ‘black history month’ for example.

Very Finally – what I probably find most interesting about the show (although this might just be me) is that it does put you on the side of the fugitives… you do want them to win, and this is a potentially disruptive show… it wakes you up to the awesome surveillance powers of the State: the extent to which they can penetrate into our daily lives, especially if we leave an electronic trace… although it might also be performing a subtle ‘social control function’ by sending out the message that….

The State COULD be watching you.

Final thoughts:

I think the addition #Hunted really needs is a ‘how to avoid state-surveillance’ guide… and what would my strategy be? Actually I’m not going to say, I fancy a pop at this for season 4!

 

Good Sociology Movies #1: Minority Report

Thought I’d start bashing out the occasional Friday post on good sociology movies… starting with Minority Report – which is a great intro to the ‘surveillance and crime control‘ aspect of the AQA’s 7192 sociology syllabus, crime and deviance topic,

It’s the opening scene in Minority Report which is really the relevant bit here: the arrest of Howard Marks:

In the above scene, John Anderton (played by Tom Cruise) is the chief of police of a special Washington D.C. ‘pre-crime’ unit – in which predictions are so accurate that people are arrested before they have committed a crime.

In the movie, predictions are actually made on the basis of some ‘psychic’ beings who are biogenically networked into the police’s systems, but this aside, the above movie acts as a great starting point for the topic of surveillance and pre-crime.

You can simply show the clip, and then get students to think about where in society authorities restrain or restrict people based on ‘big data’ which is a form of surveillance.

Students should be able to think of a few examples at least, tied into the topic of ‘actuarial crime control‘.

Maybe I’ll blog about the answers another time…

Sociology in the News (8) – Killer Clowns and Donald Trump’s Misogyny

The Killer Clown Craze 

killer-clown-craze-manchester.jpg

The societal response to the so called ‘Killer Clown Craze‘ seems like a good example of a moral panic. Piers Morgan (moral entrepreneur supremo) has waded in against the craze, and as soon as he gets involved in anything, that’s a sure sign of moral panic). Twenty years ago, people dressed in scary clown costumes would have been regarded as ‘Halloween pranksters’, today they’re regarded as public menaces who are a threat to public order and child well-being.

Thames Valley Police reported that

‘In the last 24 hours we have been called to 14 incidents across the region where people have reported being intimidated or frightened by others dressed as clowns. This follows the report of other incidents across the country which have been widely reported in the national media. While we don’t want to be accused of stopping people enjoying themselves we would also ask those same people to think of the impact of their behaviour on others and themselves.’ 

The public have been warned that dressing up as a clown with the intent to scare people could result in a criminal record, and children have been advised to phone child line if they are distressed by such sightings. Staffordshire police have further advised that people don’t ‘like’ Killer Clown pages on Facebook.

Maybe the chainsaw wielding clowns are taking this a step-too far, but as far as I can see, most of the incidents are harmless pranks, meaning the panic over this is almost certainly disproportionate, possibly a response to living in a culture of fear in which paranoid parents construct children as delicate objects in need of protection. Surely 30 years ago clown pranks would have been laughed off as funny?

This is also a great example of a ‘hyperreal’ deviant phenomenon – some people are even dressing up as superheros and chasing the Killer Clowns…

cumbriasuperheroes1

 

Donald Trump’s Downfall

donald-trump-gropes-ivanka.jpg

Donald Trump’s downfall is a useful example of how Synoptic Surveillance can bring down the powerful – It looks like his chances of winning the US election are now extremely slim after video footage came to light of him engaged in what he thought was a private conversation in which he described his failure to ‘fuck’ (his words) a married T.V. presenter even thought he’d ‘moved on her like a bitch’, shortly after he himself had just married. He also boasted of groping women in the same conversation.

Synoptic Surveillance is a concept developed by Thomas Mathiesson to describe how surveillance is now carried out by a diverse range of people, rather than just the state keeping citizens under surveillance – as a result power is now more widely dispersed and those with political power are subject to more control from below, through journalistic surveillance for example.

Maybe the next moral panic will consist of people dressing up in Donald Trump masks groping women?  (‘Honest love, it was just a joke’.)

donald-trump
Trump -almost certainly more terrifying than killer clowns

 

 

Actuarial Justice and Risk Management

Feely and Simon (1994) argue that a new ‘technology of power’ is emerging throughout the justice system. It differs from Foucault’s disciplinary power in three main ways:

  • It focuses on groups rather than individuals
  • It is not interested in rehabilitating offenders, but simply in preventing them from offending
  • It uses calculations of risk or ‘actuarial analysis’. This concept comes from the insurance industry which calculates the statistical risk of particular events happening – for example the chances of drivers having an accident.

Feely and Simon argue that this actuarial approach is increasingly used in crime control – airports for example screen passengers before they come to an airport – passengers are awarded points based on gender, age, ethnicity, criminal convictions, and the more points, the more likely you are to be stopped at customs.

Social Sorting and categorical suspicion

David Lyon (2012) argues that the purpose of sorting is to be able to categorise people so they can be treated differently on the basis of risk. This subjects people to ‘categorical suspicion’ – they become suspects simply because they are a particular age or ethnicity (or combination of factors).

In 2010 West-Midlands police sought to introduce a counter-terrorism scheme to surround to mainly Muslim suburbs of Birmingham with about 150 surveillance cameras, some of them covert, thereby placing whole communities under suspicion.

One of the most obvious problems with actuarial risk management strategies of crime control is that it may reinforce the processes of labelling and the self-fulfilling prophecy emphasised by interactionists.

Young Minds – An example of social control through actuarialism?

The text below is taken from the Young Minds’ web site – how would Simon and Feely interpret this advice?

Young People at Risk of Offending – Advice for Parents (Young Minds)

No parent wants their child to become a ‘young offender’. But unfortunately, many young people do end up getting involved with crime or antisocial behaviour. Parents Helpline advisor Claire Usiskin advises parents on how they can help support their child.

The factors that cause young people to offend are often complex. Both parents/carers and the young person may feel blamed and stigmatised, although the factors contributing to the situation are often not their ‘fault’.

Young people who experience the following issues are more at risk of offending:

◾Poor housing or living in a neighbourhood with poor services
◾Financial hardship
◾Difficulties achieving at or attending school
◾Bullying (as a victim or perpetrator)
◾Behavioural problems
◾Hyperactivity or poor impulse control (for example ADHD)
◾Specific learning difficulties (for example dyslexia)
◾Violence or conflict within the family or social environment
◾Drug or alcohol issues within the family or social environment
◾Family or peer group attitudes which condone crime
◾Abuse or trauma in childhood
◾Spending time in local authority care

These ‘risk factors’ tend to add up, so the more of these factors a young person is exposed to, the more likely they are to get involved with crime.

As a parent or carer it can be very difficult to support your child or young person to stay the right side of the law. Peer groups can be very powerful, and teenagers may feel it is more important to stay ‘in with’ their friends than to respect the law.

Even if the child is experiencing some of the risk factors above, parents and carers can do a lot to support their child and try to prevent them breaking the law.

◾ Just one strong, positive child-carer relationship can offset many other problematic issues. Spell out clearly what is and isn’t acceptable, and tell them why this is. If relatives or friends are around, ask them for help in backing you up and giving your child firm but caring messages about keeping to boundaries.

◾ Do your best to get help and support for the child around education and mental health – even if services are not so easy to access, it is worth fighting for the child’s rights. If you think your child has learning difficulties or another condition that has not been diagnosed, ask your GP or school for an assessment.

◾Youth services, mentoring schemes and anti-crime, drug or gang projects are often run by practitioners, including ex-offenders, who have a lot of expertise in engaging with young people and motivating them to change their behaviour.

◾If you are struggling to parent your child and feel things are getting on top of you, ask for some support for yourself via the GP or a local counselling service. It’s not a sign of failure, it shows strength in wanting to be the strongest you can to support your child.

Sociology in the News 6 (Surveillance and Crime Control)

Last week, millions of mobile phones across New York City got a text alert. It read

“Wanted: Ahmed Kham Rahami, 28 year old male. See Media for pic, call 9-1-1 if seen”

The message related to a man suspected of planting the previous weekend’s bombs in New York and New Jersey, and he was picked up later that day.

Headline News - Suspected Terrorist Apprehended after the NYPD hijacked the WEA
Headline News – ‘Suspected Terrorist Apprehended after the NYPD hijacked the Wireless Emergency Alert System’

NYPD commissioner James O’Neill said the alert had given the police an edge, and hailed it as ‘the future’.

In most cases the WEA (Wireless Emergency Alerts) text alert system is used to warn people in specific neighbourhoods about dangerous weather or missing children, but this was the first time it had been used to hunt down a suspect for a crime.

The obvious pros of this crime control technique are that it worked – the suspect was apprehended, but there are also several downsides:

  • It could spread unnecessary panic – with the public already on edge about terrorism
  • People in the US are already routinely harassed for just appearing to be Muslim, this just adds to this problem – perpetuating the Muslim terrorist stereotype.
  • If it’s upscaled it could just become ineffective and people ignore such texts due to information overload.

This is a useful example to illustrate how the NYPD have essentially hijacked an emergency alert system and turned it into a technology of surveillance. You could also use it to criticise the theory that synoptic surveillance is mainly used to hold the authorities to account – this is in many ways the opposite of that. 

Foucault – Surveillance and Crime Control

Michel Foucault is one of the most influential sociological thinkers of the last half century. One of his key contributions to criminology is his focus on how the nature of crime control has shifted from using the threat of violence and the fear of being physically punished to control through surveillance – fear of being seen to be doing something wrong.

Punishment has changed from being a violent public spectacle (such as hanging) to being hidden away, behind closed doors. It has also changed from being swift and physical, done on the body, to being more drawn out and psychological – punishment today is typically about changing the mind and the soul.

This reflects a change in how power is exercised in society – we have moved away from what Foucault called ‘sovereign power’ – which is control through the threat of force, to ‘disciplinary power’ – which is control through the monitoring and surveillance of populations.

Sovereign power was typical of the period before the 18th century when the monarch had power over people and their bodies, and thus inflicting punishment directly on the body was the means of asserting control.

Foucault illustrates the use of sovereign power by describing a particularly gruesome execution which took place in 1757, which forms the introduction to his classic book ‘discipline and punish’ (see appendix below).

Foucault points out that by the end of the 18th century this type of extreme public punishment no longer took place, instead punishment took place in prisons, behind closed doors and there was more of an attempt by authorities to control and reform criminals through the use of timetables and other interventions such as educational programmes.

Foucault argues that disciplinary power evolved significantly in the late 19th century with Jeremy Bentham’s new design of prison known as the panopticon – which consisted of a central observational tower and prison cells arranged around it in such a way that the prisoners could potentially be under observation at any time, but could not see whether they were being observed or not. Because of this, prisoners had to self-monitor their behaviour so that, in effect, they ended up disciplining themselves as a result of being under constant surveillance (or because they were subjected to disciplinary power in strict Foucauldian terms)

The significance of Foucault (the important bit)

Foucault argues that the use of disciplinary power has extend everywhere in society – it is not only in prisons that disciplinary power (surveillance) is used to control people; and it is not only criminals who are subjected to disciplinary power.

Disciplinary power (surveillance) is now everywhere and everyone is subjected to it – the most obvious examples are the use of CCTV in public spaces; but disciplinary power is also at work in schools – through the use of electronic registers and reports; we can see it in workplaces – through the use of performance monitoring; and we can even see it in our personal lives – both pregnancy and childhood are highly monitored by health care professionals and social workers for example, and most of us just accept this as normal.

Most people now obey the rules because they know they are being watched – they regulate their own behaviour for fear of becoming the wrong kind of person – a failing student, an unproductive worker, a bad mother, an obese-person, for example.

NB – This is quintessentially sociological – it is only in very recent human history that we have become so obsessed with monitoring every aspect of our daily-lives, and one of Foucault’s points is that this constant surveillance doesn’t necessarily improve our lives – there are both winners and losers.

Appendix: An extract from the beginning of Michel Foucault’s ‘Discipline and Punish’

On 2 March 1757 Damiens the regicide was condemned “to make the amende honorable before the main door of the Church of Paris”, where he was to be “taken and conveyed in a cart, wearing nothing but a shirt, holding a torch of burning wax weighing two pounds”; then, “in the said cart, to the Place de Grève, where, on a scaffold that will be erected there, the flesh will be torn from his breasts, arms, thighs and calves with red-hot pincers, his right hand, holding the knife with which he committed the said parricide, burnt with sulphur, and, on those places where the flesh will be torn away, poured molten lead, boiling oil, burning resin, wax and sulphur melted together and then his body drawn and quartered by four horses and his limbs and body consumed by fire, reduced to ashes and his ashes thrown to the winds” (Pièces originales…, 372-4).

“Finally, he was quartered,” recounts the Gazette d’Amsterdam of 1 April 1757. “This last operation was very long, because the horses used were not accustomed to drawing; consequently, instead of four, six were needed; and when that did not suffice, they were forced, in order to cut off the wretch’s thighs, to sever the sinews and hack at the joints…
Bouton, an officer of the watch, left us his account: “The sulphur was lit, but the flame was so poor that only the top skin of the hand was burnt, and that only slightly. Then the executioner, his sleeves rolled up, took the steel pincers, which had been especially made for the occasion, and which were about a foot and a half long, and pulled first at the calf of the right leg, then at the thigh, and from there at the two fleshy parts of the right arm; then at the breasts. Though a strong, sturdy fellow, this executioner found it so difficult to tear away the pieces of flesh that he set about the same spot two or three times, twisting the pincers as he did so, and what he took away formed at each part a wound about the size of a six-pound crown piece.

“After these tearings with the pincers, Damiens, who cried out profusely, though without swearing, raised his head and looked at himself; the same executioner dipped an iron spoon in the pot containing the boiling potion, which he poured liberally over each wound. Then the ropes that were to be harnessed to the horses were attached with cords to the patient’s body; the horses were then harnessed and placed alongside the arms and legs, one at each limb.

“The horses tugged hard, each pulling straight on a limb, each horse held by an executioner. After a quarter of an hour, the same ceremony was repeated and finally, after several attempts, the direction of the horses had to be changed, thus: those at the arms were made to pull towards the head, those at the thighs towards the arms, which broke the arms at the joints. This was repeated several times without success. He raised his head and looked at himself. Two more horses had to be added to those harnessed to the thighs, which made six horses in all. Without success.

“After two or three attempts, the executioner Samson and he who had used the pincers each drew out a knife from his pocket and cut the body at the thighs instead of severing the legs at the joints; the four horses gave a tug and carried off the two thighs after them, namely, that of the right side first, the other following; then the same was done to the arms, the shoulders, the arm-pits and the four limbs; the flesh had to be cut almost to the bone, the horses pulling hard carried off the right arm first and the other afterwards.

“When the four limbs had been pulled away, the confessors came to speak to him; but his executioner told them that he was dead, though the truth was that I saw the man move, his lower jaw moving from side to side as if he were talking. One of the executioners even said shortly afterwards that when they had lifted the trunk to throw it on the stake, he was still alive. The four limbs were untied from the ropes and thrown on the stake set up in the enclosure in line with the scaffold, then the trunk and the rest were covered with logs and faggots, and fire was put to the straw mixed with this wood.

“…In accordance with the decree, the whole was reduced to ashes. The last piece to be found in the embers was still burning at half-past ten in the evening. The pieces of flesh and the trunk had taken about four hours to burn. The officers of whom I was one, as also was my son and a detachment of archers remained in the square until nearly eleven o’clock.

 

Postmodern and Late Modern Criminology

A Summary sheet covering post and late modern theories of crime – focusing on Jock Young’s ‘Vertigo of Late Modernity’, the cultural criminology of Katz and Lyng (edgework), and Foucault’s concept of discplinary power and the shift to control through surveillance. 

Post and Late Modern Theories of Crime

(PM/ LM Theories of Crime Control PART 1)

Introduction – Post/ Late Modern Society and changing crime

  • Post-Modern society refers to society since about the 1970s

  • Numerous social changes mean that both the nature of crime and the causes of crime are more complex

  • Some of the key social changes which influence criminal behaviour (and crime control) include

  • The rise of the consumer society – the norm of high consumption

  • globalisation, de-industrialisation and increasing instability and uncertainty

  • The fact that we live in a media-saturated society which celebrates celebrity-culture

  • The increase in individual-freedom (individualisation) and cultural diversity

  • Various technological changes, especially the increasing centrality of ICT.

  • This revision sheet (and the main class-notes) only look at sociologists who have developed new theories about the relationship between changes in post/ late modernity and changing crime.

  • Other areas of the course which could be included under postmodernism include gloablisation and crime, and aspects of the media and crime.

Jock Young – Late Modernity, Exclusion and Crime

  • The 1950s was a ‘golden age’ of full employment, cultural inclusion and low crime

  • Today, de-industrialisation has resulted in low-employment, instability, insecurity, uncertainty, social-fragmentation and high crime rates

  • Economic exclusion combined with the pressure to consume and be a celebrity result in anomie

  • Crime is a means of coping with this anomie – it offers us a ways not necessarily to get rich (like Merton says), but to ‘be somebody’, vent our frustrations, or simply escape.

  • As a result, crime gets more diverse, more spread out in society, and nastier (more extreme).

Cultural Criminology – Edgework

  • Developed by Katz and Lyng in the 1980s and 1990s

  • Criticises Rational Choice Theory – crime is not always rational, it is done for emotional reasons

  • Crime is increasingly about ‘edgework’ – flirting with the boundaries of the acceptable because it’s exciting, or thrilling.

  • This is very much part of living in a risk-society (Ulrich Beck)

Simon Winlow – Violent Night

  • Researched young working class men in Northern cities who regularly engaged in binge-drinking and violence at the weekends.

  • Found that their jobs were low-status and insecure, they offered them no sense of identity

  • Binge-drinking was a way to escape the boredom and low-status of work.

  • Fighting meant numerous things – it was about status, but also simply thrilling and exciting.

  • Offers broad support for both the theories above.

Surveillance and Crime Control

(PM/ LM Theories of Crime Control PART 2)

Michel Foucault – The Birth of the Prison and the rise of Surveillance

  • Punishment used to be violent, carried out on the body and it used to be done in public, now punishment is psychological, it expects people to change the way they think, and it is carried out in prisons, behind closed doors.

  • This reflects a shift from sovereign power to disciplinary power.

  • Sovereign power involved controlling people through the threat of force – people were punished severely and other people obeyed because they were afraid of the same punishment.

  • Disciplinary power now involves controlling people through surveillance and expecting people to change their own behaviour – prisoners are locked away and monitored, and change their own behaviour because they know they are being watched.

  • This logic of control now extends to everyone – even non-criminals – surveillance is now everywhere in society – it is not just criminals who are under surveillance by agents of social control, we are under surveillance from cradle to grave – school, work, pregnancy, child-birth, on the streets and roads, our health data.

  • Most people now obey the rules because they know they are being watched – they regulate their own behaviour for fear of becoming the wrong kind of person – a failing student, an unproductive worker, a bad mother, an obese-person, for example.

  • NB – This is quintessentially sociological – it is only in very recent human history that we have become so obsessed with monitoring every aspect of our daily-lives, and one of Foucault’s points is that this constant surveillance doesn’t necessarily improve our lives – there are both winners and losers.