Counter-Democratic Surveillance: The Watchful Eye of a Local Institution

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Democratic theorists have long argued that active vigilant citizens, who watch over the state, as society‘s watchdogs, strengthen democracy. The image of the watchful eye of the people has been a central and contrasting image to the dystopian Orwellian image of Big Brother. It employs control mechanisms similar to those described by Foucault, but in the service of society. From this perspective democracy is seen as a composite of two realms – a sphere of electoral representation and a constellation of counter-democratic organizations – in constant tension with each other (Rosanvallon 2008). The watchful eyes of counter-democratic organizations are particularly made powerful by the rise of the Internet with its spontaneous adaption of watchful functions. However increased awareness and mistrust have led not to broader participation in traditional liberal institutions but to a greater social attention and demand for transparency of information. This paper takes a closer look at dynamics of counter-democratic surveillance from the perspective of a local political institution. The paper reports on a 3-year research project on counter-democratic functions of institutional oversight and organised distrust. Even though Government officials, over the three years of research, seemed to expand their overseeing legitimacy e.g. through the use of ―Big Data‖ techniques, local institutions continued to inspect, monitor, investigate and evaluate the actions of Government. Local accounts were created in the interest of the national overseers but correspondingly given as responds to fulfill legal requirements or more loosely defined public concerns. Consequently the watchful eye of a local institution form a counter-democratic sight aimed at the strategic intentions of the Government. The paper introduces the concepts of vigilance, denunciation and evaluations to explain how counter-democratic surveillance is often an overlooked feature when portraying surveillance as part of democratic promises and problems.
Original languageDanish
Title of host publicationABSTRACT BOOKLET : 6th Biannual conference of the Surveillance Studies Network - SURVEILLANCE: AMBIGUITIES AND ASYMMETRIES
PublisherUniversitat de Barcelona
Publication date13 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - 13 Mar 2014
EventThe 6th Biannual International Surveillance & Society conference : SURVEILLANCE: AMBIGUITIES AND ASYMMETRIES - Barcelona, Spain
Duration: 24 Apr 201426 Apr 2014


ConferenceThe 6th Biannual International Surveillance & Society conference
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