How to define surveillance?

  • Christian Fuchs Universidade de Uppsala
Keywords: surveillance theory, social theory, neutral surveillance theory, negative surveillance theory, critical surveillance studies


The task of this paper is to explore and compare ways of defining surveillance. In order to give meaning to concepts that describe the realities of society, social theory is needed. Therefore social theory is employed in this paper for discussing ways of defining surveillance. “Living in ‘surveillance societies’ may throw up challenges of a fundamental – ontological – kind” (Lyon, 1994, p.19). Social theory is a way of clarifying such ontological questions that concern the basic nature and reality of surveillance. A distinction between neutral and negative concepts of surveillance is drawn. Some potential disadvantages of neutral concepts of surveillance are outlined. This paper wants to contribute to the discussion of how to best define surveillance and wants to show that one of the main theoretical differences and questions in surveillance theory is if surveillance should be defined as a negative or a neutral concept.


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Author Biography

Christian Fuchs, Universidade de Uppsala
Professor Titular de Estudos de Mídia e Comunicação da Universidade de Uppsala, Departamento de Informática e Estudos de Mídia, Suécia. Coordena o projeto de pesquisa “Sites de redes sociais na sociedade da vigilância” (2010-2013), financiado pelo Fundo Austríaco para a Ciência.
How to Cite
Fuchs, C. (2011). How to define surveillance?. MATRIZes, 5(1), 109-136.