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The Culture of Surveillance: Watching as a Way of Life

The Culture of Surveillance: Watching as a Way of Life

David Lyon

ISBN: 978-1-509-51545-5

May 2018, Polity

172 pages


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From 9/11 to the Snowden leaks, stories about surveillance increasingly dominate the headlines. But surveillance is not only 'done to us' – it is something we do in everyday life. We submit to surveillance, believing we have nothing to hide. Or we try to protect our privacy or negotiate the terms under which others have access to our data. At the same time, we participate in surveillance in order to supervise children, monitor other road users, and safeguard our property. Social media allow us to keep tabs on others, as well as on ourselves. This is the culture of surveillance.

This important book explores the imaginaries and practices of everyday surveillance. Its main focus is not high-tech, organized surveillance operations but our varied, mundane experiences of surveillance that range from the casual and careless to the focused and intentional. It insists that it is time to stop using Orwellian metaphors and find ones suited to twenty-first-century surveillance — from 'The Circle' or 'Black Mirror.' 

Surveillance culture, David Lyon argues, is not detached from the surveillance state, society and economy. It is informed by them. He reveals how the culture of surveillance may help to domesticate and naturalize surveillance of unwelcome kinds, and considers which kinds of surveillance might be fostered for the common good and human flourishing.

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"This book manages to be comprehensive and authoritative in approach, whilst providing a very convincing and accessible account of key shifts in technology and society that underpins the concept of surveillance culture. This makes it both an original and high-quality contribution to the field."
Lina Dencik, Cardiff University, UK

"The Culture of Surveillance provides a nuanced account of contemporary surveillance practices."
Daniel Trottier, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands

"David Lyon has long been a powerful witness to the corrosive consequences of contemporary surveillance. This latest work warns how digital modernity’s surveillance regimes insinuate themselves into our lives and shape the most intimate qualities of experience. Lyon explores the threat of normalization, calling for resilience and agency against such surveillance and suggesting alternatives. Once again, we are in his debt."
Shoshana Zuboff, Harvard Business School