Under surveillance Being watched in modern America

Randolph Lewis, 1966-

Book - 2017

"Tackling one of today's most timely issues from a broad, humanistic perspective, this book explores the emotional, ethical, and aesthetic challenges of living under constant surveillance in post-9/11 American society."--Publisher's description.

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Austin : University of Texas Press 2017.
First edition
Physical Description
267 pages ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 237-261) and index.
Main Author
Randolph Lewis, 1966- (author)
  • Feeling surveillance
  • Welcome to the funopticon : the insidious pleasures of ludic surveillance
  • Growing up observed : surveillance and childhood
  • Watching Walden : surveillance in the wild
  • A mighty fortress is our god : selling surveillance in the Bible Belt
  • The business of insecurity : inside the new surveillance marketplace.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

American studies scholar Lewis (Navajo Talking Picture) offers a wide-ranging set of approaches to assessing the pervasive yet often subtle consequences of modern surveillance technologies in the United States and the West more generally. Pitching his analysis to a general reader, the author draws on popular culture as well as a growing body of scholarship and the details of his own biography to broaden and deepen our appreciation of surveillance's psychological and social impact. Lewis thus takes in not only government and corporate activities but other forms of surveillance. These include "domestic surveillance," or the highly gendered and class-inflected systems of supervision and control experienced in childhood, and the "playful surveillance" of online games and other commercial gadgetry conducted in the name of pleasure and social connection. Adding nuance to this generally bleak picture of a all-encompassing denial of privacy, Lewis acknowledges certain (potentially) liberating aspects of the latter category of surveillance, which he dubs "the Funopticon," after the panopticon, an 18th-century plan for mass surveillance. Not every chapter is equally original or insightful, but this book contributes a clear formulation of key issues at stake while reminding us that technological advances unaccompanied by critical reflection and public discussion risk what Thoreau-one of Lewis's political and philosophical touchstones-called "but improved means to an unimproved end." (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Kirkus Book Review

An academic consideration of the cultural meanings behind increasing surveillance and post-9/11 securitization.Lewis (American Studies/Univ. of Texas; Navajo Talking Picture: Cinema on Native Ground, 2012, etc.) sets out "to ask difficult questions about the weirdness and weariness of living under the blanket of surveillance technology." He is clearly fascinated by its pervasiveness, and he argues that the traditional suspicion of surveillance ought to be reconsidered, that "the sustained and subtle impact of surveillance" adds richness of experience and even "fun" to our lives. Lewis explores these concepts in six long chapters, wide-ranging in topicality, from the overall expansion of CCTV networks to the resonance of Thoreau's ideas within today's surveillance state. He first establishes the emotional effect of overlapping types of surveillance, now integrated into our lives in venues ranging from nanny-cams to documented police shootings. "Surveillance conducted by citizens, or sousveillance, is supposed to shield us from the worst abuses of the state," he writes. In the aptly named "Welcome to the Funopticon," Lewis discusses the classic surveillance literature of George Orwell and Jeremy Bentham alongside his thesis that the provocative, public nature of surveillance is enriching us, noting, "what has not been fully understood is how much pleasure is driving this expansion of surveillance into our daily lives." Elsewhere, the author contrasts the solemnity of the 9/11 memorial with the frenetic civic paranoia the attack unloosed, exemplified by the phenomenon of "sacred security" companies. These organizations fortify conservative evangelical Christian churches against doomsday scenarios, and they are experiencing rapid growth, like all connected with the surveillance industry. Lewis can write perceptively and with power, as in an autobiographical section reflecting on the social surveillance of his hardscrabble 1970s suburban childhood, but he also falls back on a synthesis of scholarly reading and theory that may not fully engage lay readers, in terms of current controversies and real-world relevance. Will appeal to sociologists and students of cultural studies and behaviors. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.