In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Public and Private Surveillance

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Popular Books
  • Edited Collections
  • Theorizing Surveillance
  • Identity and Identification
  • Emerging Technologies
  • Resistance

Criminology Public and Private Surveillance
Kevin D. Haggerty, Daniel Trottier
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0031


When people think of surveillance, what usually comes to mind are spies and hidden cameras. Surveillance, however, consists of a much wider range of practices and technologies. Developments in new technologies, administrative practices, commerce, and governmental regimes have culminated in surveillance in its various manifestations becoming a dominant organizing practice of late modern society. Surveillance is now an inescapable phenomenon, and how it is used raises some of the most pressing political and ethical questions of our day. The following references are some of the key works in the social study of surveillance. Not included, however, are works on the topic of “privacy,” which is its own vast and often highly legalistic field of inquiry.

General Overviews

A series of books have sought to paint a broad picture of what is occurring in the world of surveillance. Given that surveillance is such a wide-ranging phenomenon, these general overviews also range widely over institutions and practices. When we think of surveillance, we often first think of images and pictures, and Tagg 1988 analyzes the historical rise of photography and presents insights into how photography often was incorporated into official surveillance practices, particularly in the form of mug shots. Surveillance has also been embedded in architecture, and Andrzejewski 2008 details how various structures were designed during the Victorian period to maximize the monitoring of families, workers, and others. Surveillance has also been central to governmental practices, a theme that Scott 1998 foregrounds, accentuating the occasionally disastrous consequences of the state’s characteristic ways of “seeing” the world and dealing with social problems. And although we often believe that such surveillance has decreased our privacy, Nock 1993, in an important little book, points out how surveillance has often been introduced to counter the historical rise of notions of private selves and private places. Lyon 2007 is perhaps the best attempt to organize and critically analyze these diverse literatures, along with the valuable synthetic overview in Staples 2000 and Murakami Wood 2006, which helped to place the concept of a “surveillance society” on the political agenda in the United Kingdom. Murakami Wood 2009 provides a useful reflection on when (and if) it might be appropriate to talk about a “surveillance society.” The works in this section can be distinguished from those under Popular Books by the fact that these are aimed at a more academic audience.

  • Andrzejewski, Anna Vemer. 2008. Building power: Architecture and surveillance in Victorian America. Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press.

    Looks at the different ways that architecture was used to enhance the monitoring of different populations in Victorian America. It includes chapters on how surveillance was used for disciplinary control and rational management, as well as a fascinating examination of surveillance at religious camps intended to further a sense of fraternity.

  • Lyon, David. 2007. Surveillance studies: An overview. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

    One of the most important figures writing on surveillance details the diverse range of inquiries currently underway that could be collected under the umbrella of “surveillance studies.” Readers might also trace Lyon’s unfolding thought on this topic by also reading his The Electronic Eye (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1994) and Surveillance Society (Buckingham, UK: Open Univ. Press, 2001).

  • Murakami Wood, David, ed. 2006. A report on the surveillance society. Cheshire, UK: Information Commissioner’s Office.

    This comprehensive report commissioned by the UK government is a useful starting point, particularly for politicians and the general public. It includes a general introduction of key concepts surrounding surveillance studies, a rich description of current and anticipated future surveillance scenarios in everyday life, and challenges surrounding regulatory solutions.

  • Murakami Wood, David. 2009. The “surveillance society”: Questions of history, place and culture. European Journal of Criminology 6.2: 179–194.

    DOI: 10.1177/1477370808100545

    It has become a common rhetorical ploy to say that we now live in a surveillance society. Murakami Wood offers some cautions about the overextension of this concept and some criteria that can be used to identify when a society might be reasonability characterized as a “surveillance society.”

  • Nock, Steven L. 1993. The costs of privacy: Surveillance and reputation in America. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

    An intriguing and somewhat counterintuitive argument that the rise of surveillance can be attributed to the general historical emergence of “privacy.” That is, in a world in which there are more strangers and domains perceived to be private, we turn to formal identification and monitoring to establish a trusted formal reputation.

  • Scott, James C. 1998. Seeing like a state: How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

    Scott’s analysis of failed high modern projects examines several utopian planning exercises to outline how the focus on massive projects of social engineering shares a commitment to high modernist ideology. This entails a characteristic centralized and bureaucratized way of envisioning projects.

  • Staples, William G. 2000. Everyday surveillance: Vigilance and visibility in postmodern life. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

    Staples considers what he characterizes as some of the postmodern characteristics of surveillance. These include the fact that surveillance is now more technological, that it tends to target the body, that many techniques operate in our everyday lives, and that these techniques tend to bring wide populations (not just “deviants”) under scrutiny. He charts these developments in a variety of sites, such as the home, schools, workplaces, and the Internet.

  • Tagg, John. 1988. The burden of representation: Essays on photographies and histories. Amherst: Univ. of Massachusetts Press.

    Rejects the idea of photography as a record of reality. Tagg traces the role new means of representation played in processes of modern social regulation. Tagg argues for an institutional analysis of the meaning and effects of photographs, rooted in a historical grasp of the growth of the modern state.

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