Our exposure to surveillance includes medicine, popular culture and the workplace

7 July 2011

On 8 July the University of Sydney's Surveillance & Everyday Life Research Group is holding an event looking at our exposure, as individuals, to surveillance. This exposure is possible because of the ubiquitous presence of surveillance technologies and the way that surveillance has been taken up in popular culture.

Dr Gavin Smith, Convenor of the Research Group says, "In addition to the pervasive surveillance operating before our eyes an increasing number of subtle forms are emerging to allow a variety of organisational processes to work better. Your doctor's office is a sanctuary of privacy and confidentiality, but if you donate your tissue for research, you enter into a surveillance system.

"This surveillance is very different from the kind of surveillance that the police conduct. Instead of leading to an arrest, it might help develop a brand new drug. But, just like police surveillance this medical surveillance is also complex. It can lead to miracle cures, but it can also lead to disputes over intellectual property and invasive experimentation.

"Imagine, for example, if you donated a blood sample and a drug company used that donation together with other samples to make large profits. Should you get a share of the returns? To better understand the social, political and economic implications of such issues, we need studies that explore the surveillance of bodies," Dr Smith said.

This interdisciplinary symposium will include keynote addresses from The University of Sydney's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences:

Dr Charlotte Epstein from the Department of Government and International Relations on The Big Other Is Watching You: Surveillance, Sovereignty, Subjectivities.

"The creeping deployment of biometric technologies through our everyday life — from the presenting of our passports to the customs officer or of our index finger to our personal computer for it to grant us access to our own files - exemplifies some of the new bodily surveillance practices increasingly invested by the state and the private sector alike," Dr Epstein said.

"In my address I explore some of the ways in which these surveillance practices, rooted in the body and bound up with the development of new forms of population control, both private and public, are changing the relationships between modern power and the individual."

Professor Catherine Waldby from the Department of Sociology and Social Policy, on Biobanking in Singapore: post-developmental state, experimental population.

Like other wealthy states in East Asia, Singapore is busy building a bioeconomy. The government has allocated billions of dollars to life sciences research.

Waldby explains, "My talk focuses on one important project, the Singapore Consortium for Cohort Studies which is designed to track gene environment interactions in metabolic disease, specifically type 2 diabetes and heart disease related to insufficient blood supply.

"I use the project to ask what are the biopolitics of the bioeconomy? The Singapore example is telling because it forms an explicit element in the state's attempt to reposition the national population in the global economy," Professor Waldby said.

The Surveillance and Everyday Life Research Group is an interdisciplinary, collaborative initiative which examines the everyday production and experience of surveillance. The group brings together a variety of scholars from across The University of Sydney and also provides an intellectual space for collaboration from international visitors. The group is running a major interdisciplinary conference on February 20th - 21st 2012.

What: Exposing Bodies: Surveillance and Embodiment

When: Friday 8 July 2011 from 8.30am

Where: The New Law Building Level 4, Faculty Common Room, Eastern Avenue, The University of Sydney.

Cost: Free of Charge although registration is mandatory

To register or for more information, visit the Surveillance & Everyday Life Research Group website

Contact: Verity Leatherdale

Phone: 02 9351 4312

Email: 0404032124156a3d074e3f380905280a040d27294a3c0b2d4a782d06194b0f384f