Tag Archives: surveillance

Regimes of Invisibility

I was forwarded a CFP for a conference (American Anthropological Association) called ‘regimes of invisibility.’ Naturally I almost fell off my chair since it’s been a hard slog to find a venue for invisibility. More so, I was floored by the fact that Bruno Latour is thinking about invisibility, too. While he is not universally loved, he is prolific and has a range of thinking on the types of subjects to which this concept makes a lot of sense.

He uses an argument similar to the one I made about the veil of the visual as emerging from the context of invisibility. Helpfully, his work situates the notion of invisibility in a mechanistic construct – how it comes to life – within the term ‘regimes of invisibility.’ That notion of regimes is fascinating and represents a very helpful metaphorical tools for me to harness some of the as yet loose strands of my thinking.

Right now I’m persuaded by work on surveillance societies and also, in a much different way, by work on beauty, fashion, and fame. Each is its own regime of invisibility with very interesting overlaps though similar but radically different implications.

My thinking now is on cultures of surveillance and everyday acts of intra-familial spying as a way in which to condone a culture of more pernicious extra-subjective (often market) surveillance and ‘massaging conformity.’ In terms of fashion, beauty, and fame, thinking about them as regimes of invisibility helps solidify my belief that diversity isn’t a matter of visual presence within the same order or regime of invisibility that made diversity an absence in the first place. That regime, I think, is missing a paradigm of diversity of creativity and innovation for sake of a band aid of representation.

Regimes, fantastic way to think about it!

Transparency (Wikileaks)

Much has been made in recent weeks about Wikileaks. Among the more interesting metacritiques of their actions I hear a lot of talk about ‘transparency.’ Transparency is an interesting conceptual terrain not entirely separate from the realm of invisibility.

Governments, particularly the diplomatic arms of them, some have argued, require a degree of opacity to operate freely, form opinions, and ‘talk amongst themselves’ without marring the public in details. One major critique of Wikileaks is that it will cause a lot more of what governments do to go deeper into the shadows – become less transparent and more opaque.

This poses an interesting dilemma. If the work of government is to be an extension of ‘the people’s will’ then perhaps the practices of obfuscation (behaving one way visibly but thinking something else ‘privately’) is a bad thing. 

On the other hand, do governments take on the burden of details and by extension necessarily the onus of having to keep some things out of the light? 

At the same time, there are many pernicious ways in which governments deploy invisibility to massage consent and control of the will of the people, engage in black ops that are deemed to be ‘of national security’ which is another way of saying ‘if you knew what I was doing you wouldn’t like it so it’s best that you don’t know.

Invisibility, thus, is a fine line to walk. Perhaps soon I’ll consider how this plays out on a more practical level such as ‘sunshine lists’ where public salaries are disclosed without context and to much outrage, or in the development of what seems like arbitrary public policy and such.