An introduction to our group project study the concept of surveillance in Columbia, SC.

Contributed by Jay Courson Grad Student at University Of South Carolina
December 05, 2014
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Over the past semester, our class has been studying the topic of surveillance, both from a practical and from a theoretical view, drawing heavily from thinkers like Foucault, Grusin, Chun, and Reiman. Concepts such as panopticism and premediation have been some of the through lines of our studies. This is not to say that the theory and practice are mutually exclusive, but that they are two different lenses that have overlap with which to study surveillance. For our final project, after studying different perspectives and ideas about surveillance, we did some fieldwork and went out into the streets and surveilled local surveillance. We did this in two parts. Each student individually went to a different location and observed their surroundings for an hour. There wasn’t a specific goal or angle to these observations. It was designed as a very open assignment where students were to just observe and see what they found interesting and w!hat they wanted to pursue. These observations and conclusions can be found in this project—including three Mass Observation reports.

In addition to individual observations, we met as a class at the capital building and took a walk for several blocks down Main street, making observations and taking notes. For this task, we were a little more focused. The class was divided into 4 groups, with each group focusing on a different aspect of surveillance. We focused on the ideas of congregation, consumption, thoroughfare, and visibility. Over the next few class periods, we met and workshopped these ideas, integrating the theories and concepts from readings and discussions from classes and how they applied to what we observed. In this project, the four groups wrote separate essays that address surveillance in context of the previously mentioned categories. These categories are not separate and independent categories, but different ways of classifying our observations a!nd behavior.!

Consumption is where commerce happens. It can be in the form of eateries, banking, retail shopping etc. They made observation about how aspects of surveillance enhance and enforce commerce. Congregation will of course have overlap into consumption, since people will obviously congregate at a restaurant or bar. In order to create a clear distinction from consumption, the group responsible for congregation defined congregation as specifically where people meet up without intention of spending money. Places like parks. While consumption and congregation are more destination oriented in their framing, thoroughfares are not. While they are anchored geographically — a traffic intersection is not going to relocate itself, people are transitory in thoroughfares. Thoroughfares are how the nodes of consumption and congregation are connected. Where consumption and congregation are designed to hold a person in a basic area, thoroughfares have the opposite goal and are designed to get people from one place to another. This is accomplished both by being encouraging to motion and of creating a feeling of threat, or discomfort to those who would stand still. Visibility is somewhat of an anomaly and is something that permeates into the other concepts. With security cameras, security personel and expectation of behavior, visibility is something that enhances and affects the three areas of geography. The areas of geography would still exist without visibility, but without anything to o!bserve, the concept of visibility becomes meaningless.!

The 4 group essays and our individual observations explore these ideas further and with greater detail. We are very proud of what we have accomplished, and we hope you enjoy reading our project as much as we enjoyed working on it. 



(Note: the following articles appear as separate posts.)

Sites of Thoroughfare

George Akhvlediani, Carl Burnitz, Tandria Fireall

Our modern world can be interpreted as a network of places. The ‘place’ abstracts space, overlaying it with identity. Places range from the size of a country to a bus stop. Humans orient themselves in relation to places and the notion of traveling between them. They are either in a place, or in transit to one. We will use ‘traffic’ to describe the collective motion of entities within space as they arrive and depart from places. The junctions and intersections of traffic form thoroughfares, sites that exist between places, but lack their distinctions.

We monitored several sites of thoroughfare in Columbia, South Carolina in a group exercise. We employed techniques of mass observation to analyze the technologies and practices of surveillance particular to a site of thoroughfare.


A site of thoroughfare can be modeled as an assemblage consisting of structures, bodies, machines, practices, and motion. In this regard, we consider J. Macgregor Wise’s definition of assemblage from Attention and Assemblage in the Clickable World. He describes assemblages as “multiple and diverse collections of objects, practices, and desires functioning across a broad landscape of devices.” We can use this concept to dissect thoroughfares, to parse out imbedded aspects of surveillance, behavior, and governance. To study thoroughfares, we must explore how they perform and are performed upon, and the purpose(s) for which they function.

Intersections of varying magnitudes propagate wherever paths of traffic intertwine. In an urban context, this traffic consists of vehicles and pedestrians as they move along streets and sidewalks. They are the ‘bodies’ of the thoroughfare assemblage, producing independent motions. Structures including streets and sidewalks delimit navigable terrain, anchoring the assemblage in space. As constructs, they delineate designated paths as areas of movement. In order to preserve these qualities, the United States makes the obstruction of an intersection illegal. A greater discourse of law establishes the practices by which vehicles and pedestrians traverse urban space.

These laws operate as a system of discipline upon and within the conscious minds of humans. Subjects perceive their relations with the external space by observing signals from devices, signs, and other commuters. Those who deviate from the established norms risk reprisal in the form of citations that siphon a parcel of their wage hours to compensate for the ‘damage’ their actions produce. Minor delinquency is tolerated within a threshold, which may fluctuate in regards to time and space. Therefore, laws primarily function as guidelines. Subjects abide them whenever it is appropriate and convenient to do so, as stringent enforcement is a logistic impossibility.

Thoroughfares permit the passage of bodies in spite of traffic. When a site fails to facilitate the forces of traffic, the bodies collide and form congestion. Since their destination is their goal (not the thoroughfare), they will alter their path to avoid unnecessary delays. They cease to go ‘through’ the site, circumventing it with an alternative. The site of thoroughfare becomes an obstruction in this instance. To maintain thoroughfare status, a site must ensure a consistent flow of objects, practices, and desires.

Thoroughfares cultivate an atmosphere of stability conducive to the continuous flow of traffic. This quality is compatible with the notion of ‘smoothness’ Jonathan Crary proposed within Late Capitalism and the End of Sleep:
“To be bland is a becoming “smooth,” as distinct from the idea of a mold that the word “conformity” often implies. Deviations are flattened or effaced(29-60).

The variability of thoroughfares in both design and function defies any association with a static mold. A site of thoroughfare must possess the ability to adapt to its circumstance. All of its components operate concurrently and influence each other to create a smooth flow. The image
of circularity is imbued in smoothness through the constant cycle of people entering and exiting transit. The act of traversing the thoroughfare carries its own significance.

However, thoroughfares are a far cry from the circularity-derived notions of perfection and uniformity. Aberrations in traffic coordination provide unique insight into the mechanics and failings that plague thoroughfares. The pursuit of smoothness is a neverending struggle, and any lapse invites crippling congestion. We can explore ways to deliberately sabotage this endeavor, to determine its weaknesses and strengths. Such techniques may reveal the true efficacy of thoroughfare mechanics.

The following analysis serves to ratify the arguments and concepts established thus far.

Thoroughfares are designed to allow traffic to move freely whilst avoiding congestion and collision. In some cases, roads even meet at an intersection divided by traffic lights.The lights signal oncoming traffic to go, slow down, and stop. The traffic lights dividing each intersection are also accompanied by street signs for drivers and pedestrians. These signs allow pedestrians to move freely across the intersection without disturbing the flow of traffic. Citizens are expected to understand the meaning of the street signs and follow them accordingly. Surveillance cameras were added to encourage honesty and the strictest form of order, obedience. Often, the cameras placed at intersections are positioned at angles designed to identify the drivers of vehicles and vehicle license plate numbers. This form of identification not only ensures obedience, but also acts as a disciplining guide to manage citizens, deter defiant acts and encourage law-abiding behaviors.

The government insists that the laws and surveillance are in place to prevent chaos and ensure safety; however, a closer look at this system of movement reveals that the order to thoroughfares is imposed to ensure a constant flow of traffic more than anything else. The roads, constitutive of thoroughfares lead to restaurants, business, and other roads that lead to other restaurants and businesses — which is no accident. The order and flow of thoroughfares are needed to maintain order.

Thoroughfares aid the cyclical nature of consumerism and population management. Without the flow of traffic, consumers would not be able to move freely from one business establishment to the next. The flow of traffic also allows travelers to arrive at areas of administration where attendance is recorded. Notice, all of these destinations aim to record the presence of the traveler. When citizens are recorded, their information is preserved in a system, and used not only to track their every move, but also as a way of mapping their future actions. In Premediation: Affect and Mediality after 9/11, Grusin writes, “Premediation is in this sense distinct from prediction. Unlike prediction, premediation is not about getting the future right. In fact it is precisely the proliferation of competing and often contradictory future scenarios that enables premediation to prevent the experience of a traumatic event by generating a low level of anxiety as a kind of affective prophylactic” (46). Premediated precautions are used to manage the population. Drivers and pedestrians are made fully aware daily from news stories, police presence, and etc., that disobeying laws set in place to maintain a flow of traffic would not only result in punishment but could possibly cause injury to the citizen himself or other citizens.

In an effort to manage massive groups of people, certain behaviors are encouraged and discouraged. As mentioned above, thoroughfares are designed to ensure efficiency and a seamless flow of traffic. However, the space of the intersection is also designed as an apparatus for managing populations. Thoroughfares allow easy passage from one road to another. The creation of this system not only allows the course of travel to be controlled, but it also allows

travelers and pedestrians to be guided into action. Surveillance and the laws in place steer travelers and pedestrians away from deviant acts and encourage them to behave as law-abiding citizens.Thoroughfares work because the system of movement can be easily understood and managed, but this could change if the system was more complex and citizens behaved as a defiant criminal body.

Citizens have to follow rules to maintain continuous movement within the system. Ann Marie Mol provides a relevant example in “The Citizen and the Body,” in which she considers the place of authority in hospitals and freedom of diabetic patients. She writes;

That they [patients] feel no freedom is not because they have been submitted to the force of authority. Something else is going on. Once dead, you have no choices left at all…In that context their first concern is not with who is in charge, but with what to do. How to live” (40)?

The citizens Mol refers to are patients, but citizens are also drivers, pedestrians, and those who move freely through intersections that may not be grouped into these two categories. Disobedience or defiance might very well result in death. This system imposes its power over the drivers and pedestrians — and patients — and they must follow if they do not wish to die.

The only aspects of deviance that this system ignores are the conditions of the vehicles and the health of drivers and pedestrians. A person’s ailment cannot be subject to compliance. Diseases and mechanical defects cannot comprehend order.Suppose that the driver of a car experienced sharp pain in the chest at or near an intersection. Would the driver abruptly stop or accelerate? Now imagine if a driver had a flat tire and could not move beyond the traffic lights. Both of these situations would cause confusion and congest the flow of traffic at the point of the intersection and its vicinity. This reveals one of the flaws within this system: that it’s heavily dependent upon the cooperation and obedience of drivers and pedestrians- - as responsible patients and vehicle owner—operators. This system is also dependent upon the knowledge of drivers and pedestrians. Drivers and pedestrians must follow the rules of the traffic lights as well as the signs along the sidewalks of the road. Should this system require citizens to study the laws of the road regardless of their driving abilities, instead of expecting them to follow the social cues of other pedestrians? In what way could this system be more efficient? These questions are productive ways of thinking about this system because they pose suggestions for making the system more productive.

The ability to identify and analyze thoroughfares confers a potent vantage point. A key thoroughfare is the lifeline of an urban environment, conveying its cultural, commercial, and industrial tendencies. A stationary observer is able to defy the structure of thoroughfares, placing themselves in unacknowledged, transient space. We might interpret this act as an occupation of the paranode, the space that “resists being assimilated by the network”. Ulises Ali Mejias introduces the paranode in The Outside of Networks as a Method for Acting in the World. He considers the potential for the paranode to influence the nature of networks holistically, though he acknowledges its limitations, “But realistically, today, the paranode might not be able to completely secede from its host and actualize alternatives” (159).

One can test the disciplinary mechanisms in a site of thoroughfare by deliberately violating the norms of conduct. A direct challenge to the disciplinary mechanics of of a site of thoroughfare can procure immense insight, and possibly the means to directly manipulate urban space in some future.


1. Mass Observation Diary excerpt. 347-351.

2. Communication Matters: Materialist Approaches to Media, Mobility and Networks. Eds., Jeremy Packer and Stephen B. Crofts Wiley. Oxford: Routledge, 2012. 159-172.

3. Crary, Jonathan. “Chapter Two.” 24/7: Late Capitalism and the End of Sleep. London, UK: Verso, 2013. 29-60.

4. Grusin, Richard. “Premediation” and “The Anticipation of Security.” Premediation: Affect and Mediality after 9/11.London, UK: Palgrave/MacMillan, 2010. 38-63 and 122-142.

5. Mol, Annemarie. “The Citizen and the Body.” The Logic of Care: Health and the Problem of Patient Choice. UK: Routledge, 2006. 29-41.

6.Wise, J. Macgregor. “Attention and Assemblage in the Clickable World.”

7. Mejias, Ulises Ali. “Outside the Network as a Method for Acting in the World.” Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World. Electronic Mediations. Vol. 41. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2013. 153-

Burnitz, Carl. Group Route Photo. 


Everyday Consumers

Alexa Garfinkle,  Robert Garcia, Darryl Burkett, Kenneth Childre

Consumption incorporates the exchanging of money in return for a good or service. Where these exchanges occur become our sites of consumption. These areas of consumption are dependent on the circulation of currency, and North Main Street in Columbia, South Carolina is no different. In this essay, we will focus on the strategic placement of businesses in these areas of consumption. We will discuss how time affects the way in which these businesses operate and more importantly, the way in which time affects the way we behave as consumers. 

To understand the area we are discussing in this paper it is important to understand the types of businesses that operate along North Main Street. Main Street is occupied by a variety of businesses and is considered the main corporate area of Columbia. There are eight different banks as well as other corporate institutions located in the area. These corporate businesses operate along strict times. They put pressure on their employees to manage their time efficiently. The concept of time is money has been used as a business model for a very long time. Frederick Taylor first popularized the theory of scientific management at the turn of the 20th century. “Taylorism,” which is what his theory came to be known as, has been used as the primary business model in our capitalistic society. Taylorism uses time as its main indicator of efficiency. Since it’s implementation into society, we as consumers have become extremely influenced by his idea. The pressure to be the most efficient employee one can be is seen during the lunch break hour.

The many restaurants on North Main Street have been strategically placed to appeal to those working in the nearby corporate offices. If an employee has the ability to walk to lunch versus having to go to their car and then drive to a restaurant, this scenario seems much more logical when time is a determining factor. In the case that an employee is allowed a thirty-minute lunch break, it is much more efficient to eat at a restaurant like Panera versus one that involves service, which is guaranteed to take much longer. A meal at Zoës Kitchen, which is located in Morgan Stanley, takes no longer than ten to fifteen minutes to be prepared, and a meal at Atlanta Bread Company is very similar. These “on-the-go” restaurants become extremely efficient because of their close proximity to these corporate businesses. Although these are technically not referred to as “fast food,” a meal is made ready to order within a very reasonable amount of time. 

As mentioned earlier, a site of consumption is the location of a where money is being exchanged for a particular good or service. The amount of money being exchanged is much greater in corporate institutions than in local restaurants and businesses. These corporate businesses determine these areas of consumption. Restaurants and local businesses choose their location based on these corporate business. In order to determine your businesses’ maximum profitability the amount of consumers in the area becomes very important. 

Since there is such a great amount of money being circulated in these areas of consumption, there is a heightened security throughout. Certain  businesses have security cameras for the purpose of protecting their investments from criminals. Additionally, many of the sites have the added benefit of law enforcement in order to provide even more security. Cameras provide security both mentally and physically for these corporate institutions and businesses. What does this heightened security mean for us who may not have investments in these areas of consumption? Do these sites indicate that this type of security will be the new norm of surveillance in the future? Should we give up our privacy for protection against criminals? Who are the criminals? We have no answers but, asking these questions shows that we have become aware of the new developments that are happening in these areas of consumption. For now being aware is the only thing we can do in this growing world of constant surveillance.

The physical landscape of Main Street affects the ways in which we behave as consumers, and more specifically, the way we consider time, and the way in which we interact with others. In a literal sense, time is money, and our behaviors are strongly influenced by this idea. If we were to park on Main Street or anywhere else in the downtown area of Columbia, we are forced to pay for our time via the parking meters.. These meters are under constant surveillance, and failure to pay for your “time” will almost always result in a costly ticket. The parking meters on Main Street are set to be used at certain times within the day, most of the parking meters start at 6 A.M. and end their paying cycle 12 hours later. For consumers, this becomes a problem because the parking meter acts as a self-timer for consumers. The meter encourages consumers to rush their consumption. During the breakfast and lunch rush, people are in some ways forced to rush so they do not receive a parking ticket. This could relate to Ewalds Norms, Discipline and the Law, as the parking meter is a device that is supposed to expire. When the meter does expire, it signals a parking ticket officer to give a ticket because you’ve passed the time limit that you have paid for. One reason as to why parking meters are used during the day is due to the concept of consumption prices, which are placed in restaurants during specific times.

Time’s value fluctuates depending on the demand from the consumers. There is no such thing as free space in these areas of consumption. You cannot enter a place of commerce, not buy anything and expect to not pay a price for your body taking up space. When we consume at a restaurant like Bourbon, or any sit down restaurant on Main Street, we are not only paying for the food and beverages we consume, but we are paying for that business’s time. The cost of the meal varies based on the demand at that particular time. Lunch menus tend to be cheaper compared to the dinner menus because lunch patrons tend to consume faster than those of the dinner crowd who are often not concerned with how much time it takes to consume. These areas of consumption rent space to its consumers, and the price of meals fluctuate depending on the day. For some restaurants, the breakfast or lunch prices are cheaper, and there are certain restaurants that do not require service. An example of this is Drip, which is a coffee shop located in the Wells Fargo building. Drip does not require servers, and the time that is takes the baristas to make a cup of coffee is very short. Not only are these restaurants serving at this time but some are only open for certain meal periods, in comparison to being open all day. An example of this is Cowboy Brazilian Steakhouse, which opens for lunch from 11:30 A.M. to 2 P.M, and then opens again for dinner at 5 P.M. and closes at 10 P.M. During this time, the use of parking is limited because it too is a self-timer of its own because it’s only active for a 12-hour period. Once the parking meter expires its time of being used during the day it becomes free to those who wish to dine during the night. During the night, parking meters become free, which means that people do not have to be concerned about the meters running out of time. However, when people want to order food at restaurants, the prices tend to change due to the time restrictions .An example of this sort of restaurant is Cantina 76, as they have a specific lunch menu , and the timing in which you can order from this lunch menu is limited. During the night, people realize that they aren’t being watched over by this object anymore and that they do not have to worry about paying to park. Time is not of the essence between 6pm until 6am. However, the process then repeats itself all over again starting at 6am. Overall, the parking meters have a purpose of surveying a consumer’s use of time when it comes to daily activity, which leads to either the feeling of being rushed or less of a concern of being ticketed.

Our behaviors and actions as both consumers and workers are all centered around the idea that time equals money. The way in which we manage our time has been manipulated and transformed by men like Frederic Taylor, in which his concept of Taylorism played a specific role in which the workplace is supposed to be run. To this day, institutions continue to use this tradition by strategically placing values on time and space. 



Ewald, Francois. “Norms, Discipline, and the Law.” Representations 30, Special Issue: Law and the Order of Culture (Spring 1990): 138-161.

Vemer Andrzejewski, Anna. “Efficiency.” Building Power: Architecture and Surveillance in Victorian America.



Michael Grimes-Rillorta, Ryan Brower, Dana Bolton

Imagine this. You’re speaking with a friend about a lover who has spurned you, or how you hate your professor because of their unfair assignment schedule. Simple, right? Now imagine you did this in an area that housed over fifty people within close proximity of one another. While you are reading this, you might become conscious of the inherent risks one takes when sharing their most personal opinions and affections, but one would be hard pressed to say you were not guilty of participating in similar behavior. And you are not alone.Entire populations of people—students, pedestrians, coworkers, etc—engage in these sorts of activities daily under the assumption that they have privacy in a public space, even as the reality of openness that define their environments. But why? In the discussion that follows, we elucidate how sites of congregation are often imbued with the “illusion of privacy”, and we consider how this illusion invites patterns of private actions in a public setting.. This illusion is reinforced by the lack of visibility from certain security cameras and the nature of these sites as areas of gathering which disguise potential opportunities for surveillance. Finally, we consider how publicly performed private acts reveal personal data through anomalies in behavioral patterns, especially as it works in Columbia, South Carolina.

A site of congregation is anywhere that people meet for a specific purpose or for the purpose of the meet. It can be confused easily with a site of consumption, because people will commonly congregate at a site of consumption, so for clarity purposes, it can be said that a site of congregation is anywhere that people choose to meet without the intent of purchasing or acquiring anything. (General examples include a park, a library or even an individual’s personal dwelling). These sites are not very clearly defined, and can be anything from an established public institution to a private home. Congregation is all about gathering. People choose to meet in a library or people choose to meet at someone’s house. While in some cases a group could meet or form through random chance, such as a random group of people who went to a specific site separately and formed a group for a common goal, they still intentionally went to that place with a purpose. They chose that place. It’s all about what is socially acceptable and what the intent of the group is. That is another necessity of a site of congregation; there must be a group. Whether this group intentionally arrived together, or met by happenstance, or is even an unrelated group of people who happen to be in the same place at the same time, groups are really what define sites of congregation because of their nature of gathering despite the reasoning. This raises the theory that a site of congregation is not necessarily a physical space; the group itself is a site of congregation. Patterns begin to emerge in these kinds of places. People generally go to a specific place in order to do something specific, so in any given place a pattern should be noticeable if one watches the groups of people long enough. Obviously these patterns depend on the place in specific which is what makes a site of congregation slightly more difficult to define because a pattern of one site would not apply to a different site, though the two are grouped together. What one sees at a library (i.e. studying, reading, generally being quiet) would definitely not coincide with what one would see at a bar (drinking, lots of social interaction, etc.). To get even more specific, the behavioral patterns observed at one movie theatre may not necessarily apply to another movie theatre. This makes sites of congregation a loose coalition of places with almost nothing in common held together by nothing more than that people frequent these places in groups. It is interesting to watch these patterns and see how they emerge: what are people doing and why? Why did they choose this site as their meeting place? What are the benefits of a publicly oriented congregation site as opposed to a privately owned one? Once these patterns are established they can be easily predicted. 

In one of the previous mass observation reports a student was tasked with observing the Thomas Cooper library. After hours of observation the student noticed that barely any of the students in that particular part of the library were actually studying (which one would assume is the primary function of the library) and instead chose to surf the internet and social media sites as well as watch movies on their laptops. This raises the question of why? Why did they choose to do this at the library rather than in their homes, which seems much more socially appropriate? After further observation it was noted that this sort of behavior only occurred in that specific part of the library (the top floor close to the exit stairwell to be exact) and other patterns had emerged in other parts of the library. This could mean either that one spot is generally recognized not as a place of study but as a place of relaxation, or it could be thought that perhaps one student decided to stay on that floor and watch videos on the internet and when another student noticed that this was socially acceptable behavior (at least at this part of the library) decided to do the same, and so on. Had every one of the students in there had left at the same moment and relocated in a more deserted area, that area would instantly become a site of congregation whether or not that was its original purpose. 

The problem with these sites is that their ambiguous nature of being both public and private creates an unclear area for a populace to interact or be a part of. They are public because of their accessibility by a general population, yet private in how they operate ideally with small, intimate groups of people.From the observations of our individual Mass Observation Projects, we each concluded that surveillance was respectively a part of each setting; a common’s area, a library, and a general building of congregation in the Russell House on the USC campus. Yet, we each concluded there was also a general inattention to watchful eyes by the general public we were observing. Despite the prevalence of some sort of security, people willfully were unaware or ignored it (Slobogin 81). But why? We believe that the private nature of the group setting creates an illusion of privacy, which is reinforced by the smoothness of camera placement.

Although most people in these public places are being recorded more than they are not (Slobogin 83), there are two possible reasons why they may not be attentive to this. The first is truly being unaware.  Despite the prevalence in everyday American life of devices which track, most students consider their academic lives a place where they are “safe” from being watched. This causes us to further ignore the fact that surveillance is omnipresent, and pushes it to a part of our lives for which we have a general inattention for(Wise 167). This inattention is exploited by the strategic and economic placement of cameras. Through our research, we noted that there were far fewer cameras than we expected, though this was justified by research into the actual cameras price tag. Although there were fewer cameras, they were placed in high traffic areas and out of the sight of unassuming passing people. This general net of safety that is actually made of strategic choices that fools one into believing they are anonymous.

The other explanation is that we are trained to obey. Although we must know we are being watched, we willfully choose to ignore it. The one example that comes to mind is the many who looked all around and never noticed the camera they were under (Bolton 4). This can be explained by the tendency of one being watched and automatically assume that who ever watching is trustworthy and has the best intentions in mind, therefore one sides with the watcher and the watcher(s)’s opinion(Slobogin 94).

When we take a look at these places of congregation we want to see how people change their disciplinary actions.  We want to focus on what the causes and effects of two different situations. First you have when people are better behaved because they are in a public situation and they know there are eyes everywhere watching them.  Has the system trained them that a watching eye means they should be on better behavior. Is this a fear tactic? Are people more afraid when there are strangers around that they feel like they have to alter their behavior? These are the questions that we are interested in, We believe that in many situations people do change to try to be on their best behavior in public gatherings. Some change because they don't want to embarrass themselves others do it because they don’t want to stand out like a sore thumb.

On the other end of the spectrum we want to talk about how these public spaces can cause the the behavior control system to break down. What we mean by this is how being in a public space with many people can cause people to act in their worst behavior. This stems from the mob mentality. When there is a group large enough the individual people in the group start to feel more powerful. They feel like they can do whatever they want because the system can not possibly stop of them. This is where difficulty comes in. In many places we think that just having a camera is enough to stop bad behavior or crime. We want to investigate the differences between these two and what is the catalyst for each of them. There are many variables that cause the different reactions from people in public spaces. Do the people around you change the situation or is it the location in particular that changes how people act?

Using our individual’s clusters we want to explain how the differences in public and private congregation areas affect people’s behavior, how people are change their behaviors knowing that they are being watching and how the people around and spefic locations dictate these actions. In these areas we want to focus on how someone feels and how they act depending on the different variables. We hope to explore more into how these human patterns are being shaped in areas of gathering. Also how these acts of surveillance can greatly affect the state of a person. 

Works Cited

Bolton, Dana T. "Mass Observation Project." (2014): 1-6. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.

Brower, Ryan. “Mass Observation.” (2014): 1-3. Web. 20 No. 2014

Grimes-Rillorta, Michael. “Mass Observation.” (2014) 1-4. Web. 23 No. 2014

Slobogin, Christopher, Public Privacy: Camera Surveillance of Public Places And The Right to Anonymity. Mississippi Law  Journal, Vol. 72, 2002

Wise, Macgregor. "Attention and Assemblage in the Clickable World." N.p.: n.p., n.d. 159-72. Print.


Visibility On Main
Grace Miyaji, Austin Howard, Holly Hill, Amy Eschenfelder

Main Street is a vibrant strip of Columbia which is home to multiple buildings and different businesses. As such, one might expect the area to have multiple types of security watching over it. For these reasons, Main Street appears to be the best area for our final act of surveillance for this class. It was important, for multiple reasons, that while on our walk we paid particular attention to the visibility of the cameras and whether or not any one is actively aware of them. We were/are interested in seeing these things: not only how openly visible the cameras on main street are, but if anyone outside of our class actively notices them, how many more cameras there are versus security guards, and how people act when they think they’re being watched.

It will be interesting to see if the community has a natural behavior with a change to their normal environment. It will also be critical to notate camera locations in relation to how people interact and travel. It could be productive to ask people if they are aware of camera locations to see if they are under the public anonymity clause or fully aware of how they are monitored.

Since our group’s main focuses are visibility and lines of sight, it is necessary to consider not only the mechanical and ever-watchful eyes of security cameras, but also the eyes of our fellow citizens. The presence of security cameras is so ubiquitous in our society that we often do not notice them. While everyone knows they are observed to some extent while in public, it is possible to overlook just how many cameras one passes on a day to day basis. It is easy to maintain an illusion of public privacy. However, one of the purposes of security cameras is to premediate and deter crime. This is evidenced by the countless dummy cameras available as cheap home security. When a camera is unnoticed, it cannot fulfill this function. While unseen security cameras can provide a record of events, they cannot deter potential crime and ensure good behavior in the same way, for example, a policeman or security guard can. 

Security cameras provide evidence of observation, but not a guarantee. Even when one is aware of a camera, they may assume no one is actually watching the feed, or even that it is a fake camera. Foucault says that the knowledge that one even might be observed at any time is enough to ensure good behavior. However, concrete proof of surveillance, such as the watchful eye of a security guard, can sometimes be more effective at controlling a population. Which is more likely to deter a potential bank robber: a shiny black dome on the bank ceiling, or a uniformed security guard at the door? This is an extreme example, but the idea holds true in more common situations as well. Are you more likely to goof around at work if your boss is in their office, or if they are standing next to you? For these reasons, it will be productive to observe how people's behaviors change in the presence of not only security cameras, but also in the presence of guards and police. 

Another aspect of visibility pertains to the behavioral patterns people adjust to while being watched or monitored. During our observation of Columbia’s Main Street, the idea of people adjusting to a norm, a natural behavior triggered by a subject whether they are consciously aware of their actions or not, was a prime discussion. The natural behavioral response to change in the environment was no change. Each subject monitored resorted to a smoothness in behavior, accepting something different due to the perceived “open” (everything being watched and providing a safe environment) nature of their surroundings.

Foucault stated, “He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he becomes the principle of his own subjection.” This idea embodies the side of visibility previously mentioned and its effect on behavior. When a subject is under surveillance, and knows they are being watched, they are immediately the rulers of their own fate. They mentally understand everything they do, look at, or notice of is now on camera and encountered a “double vision” Slobogin describes. The double vision idea is derived from philosopher Jeffrey Reiman who stated that “when you know you are being observed, you naturally identify with the outside observer’s viewpoint, and add alongside your own viewpoint of your action” [Public Privacy pg. 94]. This, as a result, alters the subject’s actions. The path someone walks may change (walkways in Russell House), how a subject waits in line (Wells Fargo line), or even what someone decides to purchase (clothing store). 

Slobogin also ponders on the idea of public anonymity which embodies the other side of the visibility when it comes to behavior. What is anyone allowed or able to do when someone is being watched but is unaware of being watched? Does it diminish their natural rights when one is watched but displays actions, sometimes criminal, due to their lack of knowledge of camera placement? Even when the cameras are used, as Slobogin describes, very few arrests are made for crimes since “recordings are sometimes of poor quality…, images caught on tape are always subject to interpretation…, and subjects are hard to identify even with good images….” (Public Privacy pg. 86). Cameras placements are used to spot current crimes, provide a record of events, and to prevent crimes from happening as a whole. Does this deteriorate self-accountability and the effectiveness of cameras overall? 

When focusing on visibility, lines of sight, and blind spots, one will immediately think of the “Panopticism” readings. Here, Foucault states that “the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power” (Panopticism 201) and “Panopticism is the general principle of a new ‘political anatomy’ whose object and end are not the relations of sovereignty but the relations of discipline” (Panopticism 208). When one knows they are being watched (in the line of sight), they will be on their best behavior. It is an innate trait of most people, to always be on their best behavior when they are being watched, or that there is even the possibility of one being watched.  

A site of visibility would be where one is completely out in the open to be seen by everyone and anything with “eyes”; no actions can be hidden, and all actions are to be recorded via surveillance devices, or monitored by people. A blind spot on the other hand may be out of a persons’ peripheral vision, or out of the cameras line of site if it doesn’t cover all angles. One could fix this issue by having multiple cameras in multiple positions, or placing people at different places in certain locations, so no site goes “unwatched”. In Foucault’s “Eye of Power”, Bentham “poses the problem of visibility, but thinks of visibility organised entirely around a dominating, overseeing gaze” (152).   Here we see that being under constant supervision could raise issues, but no matter what, we are being watched for all the right reasons; it is never to impede ones privacy, but rather ensure their protection and to prevent the possibility of any harm or wrongdoing. 

Since the Gressette Building, located on the State House grounds, on Gervais Street is a government building, it is assumed that there will be no blind spots in terms of surveillance. We should be closely watched from all angles by both cameras and security officers.  Our classmate Carl’s astute observance of the State House grounds and the Gressette Building further solidify this theory. Blind spots in terms of security on government property could prove to be detrimental to many if something bad were to occur. Therefore, taking the proper precautions that there are no blind spots, and everything is visible, is a proper step that must be taken to ensure the safety of all. 

Security cameras have become a normal sight in society, so much so that most people don’t even actively notice them anymore. Still, there are certain places that are assumed to have more security than others, as in banks or government buildings. We expect these places to want to have a higher level of security “just in case” even if we’re not looking for it. There are other places though that have been adding security to their premises for reasons that do not usually come to mind first when we think of common reasons behind installing cameras. Grusin says that the reason for why people use cameras is all about premediation; the cameras are essentially in place to prevent things from happening and always being ready for an “inevitable” something to happen.

Grusin says, “Unlike prediction, premediation is not about getting the future right.” (Premediation pg 46) What he means by this is that predicting the future is just guessing what is going to happen but not actively doing anything about it while premediation is about trying to deter a problem or situation that you assume will happen before it actually happens. Grusin explains, “Premediation entails the generation of possible future scenarios or possibilities which may come true or which may not, but which work… to guide action in the present.” (Premediation pg. 47) By installing cameras in certain places, businesses believe that this will cause an inevitable negative outcome to not happen, thus avoiding a worst-case scenario. 

The interesting part about this is to see where the cameras are placed. We can assume that the most cameras will be placed in areas that either have a certain history (i.e. past break-ins, muggings, accidents, etc.) that requires extra security or that area anticipates needing extra security in the future (either to be able to help solve the crimes already happening or to prevent them in general). Assuming that the areas with cameras are at higher risk of unwanted activity, illegal or otherwise, one wonders if there is any other logic to the placement of camera systems. 

It is possible that the cameras serve a more analytical purpose by allowing the viewer to study society through them, in a completely natural environment. This would be one explanation as to how the installers know what to expect in certain areas. In 11 January 1978, Foucault says, “…I see [this analysis of mechanisms of power]’s role as that of showing the knowledge effects produced by the struggles, confrontations, and battles that take places within our society…” (pg. 3) Strategically placed security cameras can be used as a means of studying society without them knowing, therefore allowing them to be seen in the most natural of their ways.

Upon further analyzing of the prompt and the selected readings, one begins to wonder, is complete visibility a good or bad thing? Being monitored, whether by camera or by person, definitely promotes better behavior, which in turn promotes a safer environment for everyone. If people know they are not being watched, they are more likely to do something they should not be doing. In a sense, this is similar to the behavior of a toddler or high school student.  The likelihood of getting caught doing something is what prevents most from doing something wrong if they are aware they are being watched – therefore constant visibility is a positive thing. 

[Works Cited]

Foucault, Michel. “Foreward” and “11 January 1978.” Security, Territory, Population. Lecture at the College de France 1977-1978. Ed. Michel Senellart. Trans. Graham Burchell. New York: Pallgrave, 2007. xiii-xvii and 1-23.

Foucault, Michel. “Panopticism.” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. 1977. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books, 1979. 200-228. 

Grusin, Richard. “Premediation” and “The Anticipation of Security.” Premediation: Affect and Mediality after 9/11. London, UK: Palgrave/MacMillan, 2010. 38-63 and 122-142. 

Slobogin, Christopher. Privacy at Risk. Chicago, IL: U of Chicago, 2007. Print.


DarrylUSC 2015's picture
Response from
Darryl Burkett

December 08, 2014

Re: Introduction

By doing this project are you more concerned about surveillance or not? Why or why not?

jaycourson's picture
Response from
Jay Courson

December 08, 2014

Re: Introduction

Less. One of the main things I learned not only from the project, but the entire semester, is that I had a vastly overinflated idea of how important I am. Clearly I am being observed, and my data exists in a lot of files with a lot of companies and government agencies. But unless something unusual comes up, I'm not being looked at, or cared about, by anyone. My privacy comes not from not being observed, but from being too unimportant to be cared about. So now that I worry about surveillance less, I now need to tackle this existential crisis that has been created!

cooleyh's picture
Response from
Heidi Rae Cooley

December 07, 2014

Re: Introduction

A distinction for all of us to re-consider: prevention vs. premediation. Someone want to take this one on?

Michael grimes's picture
Response from
Michael Grimes

December 08, 2014

Re: Introduction

I sort of see it as prevention as stopping one action. (Maybe a stop sign prevents accidents) Where as premeditation is all kinds of changing systems to reach a larger goal (our government keeping the country running smoothly.) 

Similar to what Jay is saying also, is that prevention has more a negative connotation. It makes it seem like something bad has already happened so we will put this in place to fix it. 

jaycourson's picture
Response from
Jay Courson

December 07, 2014

Re: Introduction

I would say that premediation is a positive and prevention is a negative. I don't mean that in regard to moral value. Positive does not mean "good," nor does negative mean "bad."

What I mean is, the premediation is generally a system that encourages people to act in a specific way. Usually to move through thoroughfares and stop or gather in specific places, usually related to consumption. Prevention, by definition is something that encourages people to not act, or to not engage in specific behaviors.

These two concepts are very interlinked. In order to encourage people to behave in a certain way, you also need to prevent people from acting in a different way and also to not act in a way that would disrupt this action. A traffic intersection is a good example. The premediation are pedestrian lanes that make a clear pathway for foot traffic. There also is nothing in a crosswalk to draw attention. There usually are electionic signs that signal who's turn it is to cross these paths, and because this is a system long in place, we already are aware of what's expected of us. From a preventative perspective, if someone behaves inappropriately, they face the risk of getting a citation, or even a public shaming. We've all seen a confrontation between a pedestrian and a car where horns are blaring, arms are flapping, and wonderful haikus of profanity are exclaimed.