Sousveillance and Inverse Surveillance

Skip to end of metadata
Go to start of metadata

Sousveillance and Inverse Surveillance

by Monica Garcia

Coined by Steve Mann in his discussions around surveillance, "sousveillance" was conceived as a way of resituating subjects of surveillance, providing the means of surveilling organized forms of surveillance. It derives from the french "sous" and in contrast to surveillance, meaning view from above, sousveillance is understood as a 'view from below'. It is used to describe the recording of an event, activity, organization from the perspective of the participant rather than through an overarching structure.One of the most famous examples of sousveillance is the video by George Holliday, who videotaped police officers unneccessarily beat LA resident Rodney King after he had been stopped on a traffic violation, a catalyst for the LA riots in 1992. Sousveillance has since then come to include the use of small portable recording devices that not only capture video, but have continuous live video streaming to the Internet.

While Mann was primarly concerned with the role and liberation seen with the use of small portable or wearing recording equipment, "sousveillance" brings up numerous issues concerning the power and paranoia connected to surveillance, as well as the possibility for subversion or resistance. This brings up inverse surveillance, a sub-set of sousveillance where those who are typically under surveillance or the subject of surveillance, analyze systems of surveillance from the perspective of a participant. Much of the work is centered around a spatial mapping of surveillance, such as the works of Manu Luksch in her work, Mapping CCTV around Whitehall, where she photographed and mapped surveillance cameras located within businesses, in the street and in and around other public spaces, noting their location and field of vision, entering it into a virtual representation. This project is interested, not only because of its interest in mapping nodes of surveillance, but also because of the reaction from spectators. It sparked fear and paranoia, not only from among people pedestrians walking past, but more importantly from those in authority most notable a couple of police officers who demand for her to offer her bag for inspection, citing the right to search for suspicion of terrorism. Although Luksch was doing nothing wrong or inherently political/radical, it was the interaction with that which is suppose to remain unseen, a functioning of authority, that initiated suspicion. How does this action and subsequent reaction relate to questions of the use and function of public space in terms of its possibilities and conflicts?

Proponents of sousveillance see the act of inverting surveillance as a balancing power between survielled and the surveillor, a subversion of the gaze of the panopticon. With this subversion, power is disseminated and a shift occurs between a top-down hierarchal system of power into a leveled circulation of power. However, it must be noted that power is still functioning in this surveilled/surveillor dynamic. It has been localized, brought down to the level of human-to- human interaction. One feels inclined to ask if this is only a futher means of oppresion. It seems important to discuss issues of visuality and its relation to power. Foucault discusses the importance of the control of the body for disciplinary power through the act of seeing and 'knowing' the body. The production of power-knowledge by means of sousveillance become circulated through society into a "democratizaiton of voyeurism" -- from one gaze, it becomes many.

(a still of the program iSee, which maps surveillance cameras throughout the city, allowing users to navigate through Manhattan with the least amount of surveillance cameras in their path)


Video Still from Faceless


Faceless movie:

Mapping CCTV:


Insititute for Applied Autonomy (iSee):

Article from Wired: Record the Lens that Records You

Enter labels to add to this page:
Please wait 
Looking for a label? Just start typing.