When we discuss…

When we discussed the panopticon, I thought one modern version is security cameras. The ones I have the most experience with are in stores. If you do not already know this information, please do not use it for evil purposes: not all of them are real. Even if the cameras are real, the store might not have someone there all the time monitoring them. Like the panopticon, the purpose of the cameras is to watch the people but also to make the would-be criminals think twice before doing anything nefarious. The theory does not require someone to actually be watching them. The prisoners theoretically will not act out because they think they are being watched. The cameras that do not work or are not being watched hopefully deter criminals in a similar fashion by making people think they are being watched.

Camera systems are already used in cities. The ones I have seen most often are traffic cameras, but street cameras also exit. They are more hidden, and in Auburn at least they are not marketed as trying to stop crime. Did you know there is a live feed of Toomer’s Corner? Its intended purpose is to show people the city. For instance, people who cannot be here on game days can still watch the celebrating around the trees. It is not there to catch burglars or to catch cars running a red light, though it could by chance. This camera shows the opposite idea of the security ones; the public is not supposed to notice it. The city does not want you acting different because you know you are being watched. The intention is for you to go about your day, so people can see what everyday life is like.

The security cameras remind me of the “hired surveillance” from Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Jacobs lists doormen as an example, and with modern technology security cameras have become a part of that system. Now, the people in the apartment lobby can watch the main hallways and exits at the same time. Hopefully, the cameras will deter crime by just showing people they are being watched. A building that cannot afford a doorperson could put up false cameras to create the panopticon effect. Cameras can be monitored off location, so another company could be hired to watch them instead of hiring several employees to monitor entrances. I do not think the cameras fit in with Jacobs’ opinions because she was in favor of a more natural surveillance system. Her ideal system was business owners, citizens, and patrons working together to monitor the city (277).

The idea of surveillance cameras showing up everywhere around cities is very Big Brother. We discussed in the class the idea that many people are all right with sitting outside in public because we are not doing anything wrong. To me, the distinction becomes when we are expected to do something wrong. When I eat my lunch outside, people do not expect me to commit a crime. A security camera shows the city thinks you need to be watched. The cameras in the stores pretty much show they expect you to steal things, but it is private property. We choose to go there and can go somewhere else if it bothers us. The camera on Toomer’s Corner is not staring down at us expecting us to do something wrong. It is hidden and is meant to observe the fun parts of Auburn. The cameras at the apartment buildings and places with the mixing of public and private is where the lines blur. The ones in the building and directly around it are no different from other cameras, but the idea of security cameras on the street is not exactly a new idea. Fiction has played around with the idea for a while, such as the 1984 reference above. Ideas of privacy change over time, so it will be interesting to see how the use of cameras changes in cities.


Jacobs, Jane. “The Life and Death of Great American Cities.” The Blackwell City Reader. Ed. Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 273-277. Print.

Toomer’s Corner video feed


1 Comment

by | May 22, 2012 · 7:40 pm

One response to “When we discuss…

  1. I like how you have carried on our discussion of Jacobs and applied it in different situations. The biggest issue you raised that I think you could keep thinking about is the difference between cameras that are meant to be seen and cameras that are not meant to be seen. I wonder how those fit into the public/private blurring.

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