From Video Surveillance to Video Narratives: Three Black Male Stories on Safety

From Video Surveillance to Video Narratives: Three Black Male Stories on Safety

Alex Jean-Charles (Missouri State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1766-6.ch002


This chapter examines the experience of young black males with video surveillance as a technology of oppression and video narratives as a technology of liberation. Foucault's work on power relations and Baudrillard's works on media simulation are used as a framework of analysis to examine (1) the “truths” that characterize the sphere of discourse that favors the use of security surveillance technology to control school violence; (2) the ways such regimes of power act to shape the consciousness and identity of poor, urban, young black male students; and (3) the ways the technology, as an expression of a panopticon technique, acts to shape the phenomenological experience of place for students. In addition, media and the portrayal of Black males are explored through classical Western literature.
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Surveillance Technologies

One could argue that all students are being surveilled– white male/female, Chicano/a, black male/female, wealthy and poor. But what story is particular to the young black male experience regarding this phenomenon? What does it mean for a young black male to be watched? What is the nature of this experience? In this section of the paper, I have elected to use Michel Foucault’s (1986) hermeneutic approach of conformity analysis along with black experience to understand surveillance technology in urban schools. Throughout the project, I hope to provide a voice to young black males such as myself to articulate their experience living with surveillance technology.

Surveillance has always been a part of human life. The word surveillance derives from the French word surveille, meaning, “to watch from above”. According to Staples (1997), surveillance video is an “exercise of disciplinary power that is often continuous, automatic, and anonymous” (p. 25).

In the production of the perfect map (simulacra), electronic surveillance has increased significantly in various spheres of society in recent years. It has influenced a set of practices and developed a new set of meanings. There is no doubt that these practices and meanings have come to represent the technologically advanced hyperreality settings that we live in today.

The Panopticon, designed by Jeremy Bentham (1791, 1995), an English utilitarian philosopher, jurist, and social reformer, is the specific technology to which Michel Foucault (1984) and Jean Baudrillard (2007) are referring. Schools have been forced in a sense to create a panoptic space in which students are monitored by security technologies. Foucault (1977) declared: “a relation of surveillance, defined and regulated, is inscribed at the heart of the practice of teaching, not as an additional or adjacent part, but as a mechanism that is inherent to it and which increases its efficiency” (p.176).

In the school, the means (process or technology) of control have become new security devices and computer technologies that school administrators are placing inside and outside the school space to monitor students. In addition to simply monitoring, the role of this technology is:

To make the spread of power efficient; to make possible the exercise of power with limited manpower at the least cost; to discipline individuals with the least exertion of overt force by operating on their souls; to increase to a maximum the visibility of those subjected; to involve in its functioning all those who come in contact with the apparatus…the final connection component in Panopticism is the connection between bodies, space, power, and knowledge. (Dreyfus and Rabinow, 1983, p. 192)

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