WP246 Goffman and the everyday interactional grounding of surveillance

Rampton & Eley


It is often said that surveillance has massively transformed our social lives (Lyon, Haggerty & Ball 2012:1), but this claim is weakened by the admission that its ?effects are difficult to isolate or observe, as they are embedded within many normal aspects of daily life? (ibid).? Picking up the analytic challenge, this paper investigates the everyday interactional practice and experience of being surveilled, and to do so, it draws on Goffman?s account of the interaction order, dwelling closely on ?unfocused interaction?, in which people maintain a ?side-of-the-eye?, ?half-an-ear? awareness of the people, objects and events in the space around them. Introducing key concepts from Goffman, the paper examines three scenes of surveillance: a woman walking down a city street, two men putting up street stickers (a civil offence), and passengers being scanned at an airport (P?tz 2012).? It shows how different senses of potential threat and illegality enter the experience of surveillance, and it builds a rudimentary model.? The paper considers only a tiny fraction of contemporary surveillance, but it shows Goffman?s value as an analytic resource that can hold large-scale generalisations about ?the surveillance society? to account, allowing us to see agentive responses to surveillance that are too subtle to be captured by notions like ?subversion? and ?resistance?.? Indeed, Goffman corroborates Green & Zurawski?s 2015 suggestion that surveillance is a basic mode of the social, elaborated in different ways in different environments.