Following the end of Cold War and the fall of communism Fukuyama argued emphatically that what we were witnessing at the time was the end of history. To use his own words, he argued in his work that “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”. Following more than two decades after what he proclaimed as the end of history it is indeed difficult to argue whether he was right or wrong and in the literature one can find arguments both in favour and against. Yet, to paraphrase his thesis one could talk of the end of privacy; a development directly linked to the prevalence of liberalism.
Indeed, if the 1990s was a decade characterised by the strengthening of the globalisation forces and the spread of capitalism the 2000s has been a decade heavily influenced by the spreading of a culture of surveillance. Examining for instance the financial crises that erupted in the West one sees how financial institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank and rating agencies such as Standards and Poors, Moodys, Fitch act as economic surveillance agencies. Foucault argued in his work The Birth of Biopolitics that “political economy’ as it evolved in the Eighteenth Century onwards was specifically related to the ways in which government should act towards the market, with the replacement of mercantilism by capitalism. As the economy has become globalized, actors and practices of control are both spread and rescaled, and the existing global economic order is based on monitoring, data gathering and processing. Surveillance has emerged as a powerful mechanism and process that enhances economic globalisation and neoliberal economic governance. According to Gill, surveillance has become institutionalised and nation states are now under constant monitoring and are in a sense forced to “provide effective accounting techniques and data about fiscal and other economic policies partly as a means of ensuring that they finance their debts and obligations to foreign investors” (Gill 2008, 185). In the context of the global neo-liberal economy the monitoring of both the state and the individual serve as control mechanisms that facilitate not just the discipline of the state (e.g. fiscal discipline) and of the individual (e.g. CCTVs in the working environment) but also safeguard the continued compliance of the state and the citizen with the norms and logic of neoliberal competition.
Surveillance has become an efficient mechanism of ordering through a series of socio-technical developments. In particular, Lyon (2007) refers in his work to the importance of technology, telecommunications, computing, networking and data gathering. The new technological instruments and processes serve the collecting and analysis of data, the production of categories of risk and profitability and the rise of a culture of control and anticipation (i.e based on the data, the future can be anticipated and constructed (Graham and Wood 2003).
It should be noted, however, that this culture of surveillance has benefits as well in many different spheres, from health (i.e. monitoring health indicators) to security (CCTVs in public spaces). What this article suggests is that there should be a balance between surveillance and individual freedom and in some cases, especially in the realm of the economy, there is no balance. Yet, what is even more worrisome is that we, ourselves, are not simply the victims as often without realising it we participate and facilitate our own surveillance and the surveillance of other people. Movies such as “The life of others”, “The Truman show” have beautifully shown how easy it is to violate the boundaries and become not the victim, but the villain. Facebook, google search twitter, apps all these brilliant, nevertheless, devices have created temptations for monitoring and in many cases many people seem to ignore and violate the boundaries of privacy and individualism. If we want the state and other agents to make better use of surveillance (i.e. for purposes of common good such as addressing climate change for example), then we have to think first of how we make use of it.
Foucault, Michel. 2008 . The Birth of Biopolitics. Lectures at the College de France, 1979- 1980. New York: Picador.
Gill, Stephen. 2003. Power and Resistance in the New World Order. Basingstoke UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Lyon, D. (2007). Surveillance Studies: An Overview. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Ericson, R.V. and K.D. Haggerty (1997). Policing the Risk Society. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Graham, S. and Wood, D. (2003). ‘Digitising Surveillance: categorisation, space and inequality’, Critical Social Policy, 23, pp. 227-248.