Surveillance and Ethnography: Researching Surveillance as Everyday Life

Green, Nicola; Zurawski, Nils
Surveillance and Society

This article argues for a wider and more nuanced understanding of ethnography’s role in Surveillance Studies than has sometimes historically been the case. The article begins by (briefly) deconstructing some of the ways that the concepts of both ‘surveillance’ and ‘ethnography’ have been deployed in empirical surveillance research over time, in order to set the scene for a critical interrogation of the variety of ethnographic approaches so far used within Surveillance Studies. The paper then goes on to review Surveillance Studies approaches broadly, and a range of qualitative and ethnographically-informed approaches in particular, within interdisciplinary empirical research related to surveillance relations. The ensuing discussion identifies several points where the existing empirical evidence base would benefit from more extensive ethnographic studies, at multiple sites and scales, that methodologically recognize surveillance as situated and meaningful everyday life processes and practices, rather than surveillant activities and relationships in settings defined as ‘surveillance’ in an a priori fashion. The article concludes by suggesting that approaches oriented towards empirically understanding surveillance practices as ‘everyday life’ have a significant future contribution to make, particularly with respect to building and developing our theoretical understandings of surveillant assemblages in everyday life contexts.