Last weekend, I was at a football match where I watched a group of fans stand and record with their phones some sort of fracas involving the stewards and some other fans. I was transfixed by this incident. The stewards tried to eject one or two people from the ground but they could barely drag them to the end of the aisle. They gave up and the fans stayed where they were until the end of the match. At half-time, those who possessed the ‘footage’ of the fracas on their phones gestured with them to the stewards as they passed as if to say “I’ve got you on here, I’ll be complaining to the club about you!”. The behaviour of fans, the actions of the stewarding, and the lack of police action doesn’t really interest me though; I’ve learned to accept it as part of the experience. But what does interest me is the way that ‘ordinary’ people are now surveilling ‘authority’; they are using mobile recording equipment to empower themselves to tackle perceived injustices. A Google search has led me to the terms ‘inverse surveillance’ and ‘sousveillance’ as the words which describe these actions.
We are now accustomed to major news stories breaking with ‘citizen’ video footage (the #mytramexperience story being a recent prominent example). No reporting about a political revolution or riot would be complete without ‘expert’ commentary on the role of Twitter or Blackberries as tools of organisation and mobilisation. Perhaps more commonly though, hyperlocal blogs and social media are utilised by communities proactively seeking to improve, in one way or another, the conditions of where they live. What’s more, video recording devices are becoming more affordable and easy to use: switch it on and press the big red button to start recording.
What I would be interested to learn more about is if, and how, communities can be empowered to tackle anti-social behaviour and reduce fear by the simple presence and knowledge of how to film the incidents that they are concerned about (something like those football fans but maybe a little more discrete!). In my research work, I often talk to members of vulnerable communities about what it is like where they live, their fears, and their struggles. Older people and people living alone have discussed with me their fears of anti-social behaviour; I have discussed with Gypsies and Travellers (living on permanent sites) the persistence of fly tipping outside their homes. As soon as the Council have organised one clean up, the vans are pulling up to dump yet more waste. I find this sort of behaviour abhorrent and it would be unacceptable to unload a van of rubbish on a road on any sort of housing estate. Local authorities (and therefore, taxpayers) are required to address the consequences of fly tipping and it is expensive; installing CCTV is possibly even more so. So what are the possibilities for communities such as these to adopt their own methods of surveillance to protect themselves? There are, of course, ethical and practical issues to consider. But, I would be interested to hear about any research or initiatives that have been implemented in this way at a community level and how effective it is at: reducing crime and ASB; and, perhaps more importantly, the fear of crime and the feelings of disempowerment associated with that fear.