Surveilling Surveillance

by thomasdekeyser

‘If you’re not doing anything to be ashamed of I don’t think there’s a reason to worry.’ – Royal Holloway student

Academic controversy around the omnipresence of surveillance cameras is nothing new, nor is it particularly surprising. Dark dystopian views, as found in numerous sci-fi writings and movies, continue to inspire critiques of a surveillance society founded upon Foucauldian principles of the panopticon. What I find remarkable however is the ongoing lack of critical response by the public to its obvious (highly visual) and rapid emergence that, until today, has no real proven record of reducing crime rates (Piza et al., 2014).


Image and art work by Lush.

Image and art work by Lush.

As the series of CCTV subversions by artist Lush indicate however, there have of course been exceptions to the passive acceptance of the pervasive infiltration of security cameras. This includes the notion of sousveillance – ‘to watch from below’ – that aims to ‘confront surveillance by using wearable computing to surveil the surveillers reflectively, bringing into question the very act of surveillance itself’ (Mann et al., 2003: 337). Examples include taking photographs in surveilled stores, filming police officers who come to your door and the live-streaming of activists-police encounters. During a one-day session on creative research practice at Royal Holloway I have appropriated perhaps the purest form of sousveillance: filming CCTV cameras. My attempt has been to start to evaluate the potential of ‘sousveillance practices’ to challenge the dominant paradigms surrounding CCTV cameras in public (in my case, a ‘public’ university campus) and to experiment with new iterations of the concept that extend it further into the public realm.




Mann, S., Nolan, J. and Wellman, B. (2003) Sousveillance: Inventing and Using Wearable Computing Devices for Data Collection in Surveillance Environments, Surveillance & Society, 1(3), pp. 331-355.

Piza, E. L., Caplan, J. M. and Kennedy, L. W. (2014) Analyzing the Influence of Micro-Level Factors on CCTV Camera Effect. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 30(2), pp. 237-264.