Digital Security in the Expository Society: Spectacle, Surveillance, and Exhibition in the Neoliberal Age of Big Data

46 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2014 Last revised: 19 Jul 2015

See all articles by Bernard E. Harcourt

Bernard E. Harcourt

Columbia University; Columbia University

Date Written: 2014

Abstract

In 1827, Nicolaus Heinrich Julius, a professor at the University of Berlin, identified an important architectural mutation in nineteenth-century society that reflected a deep disruption in our technologies of knowledge and a profound transformation in relations of power across society: Antiquity, Julius observed, had discovered the architectural form of the spectacle; but modern times had operated a fundamental shift from spectacle to surveillance. Michel Foucault would elaborate this insight in his 1973 Collège de France lectures on The Punitive Society, where he would declare: “[T]his is precisely what happens in the modern era: the reversal of the spectacle into surveillance…. We have here a completely different structure where men who are placed next to each other on a flat surface will be surveilled from above by someone who will become a kind of universal eye.”

What should we make of those archetypes today? Do they help us better understand our neoliberal digital condition of data collection, mining, and profiling by corporate giants such as Google and Facebook, and the NSA? With neoliberalism and digitization — in the age of digital security — I suggest, we have gone beyond both spectacle and surveillance to a new form: one that is captured best by the idea of exposition or exhibition. Guy Debord spoke of “the society of the spectacle,” Foucault drew our attention instead to “the punitive society,” but it seems as if, today, we live in the expository society. This essay offers an architectural schema to better understand our contemporary distributions of power, one that focuses on the themed space of consumption. It then actualizes the metaphor by exploring one particular manifestation of a fully-digitized themed space, and asks how we have come to embrace and love these new forms of exhibition today.

Keywords: Big Data, Digital Security, Spectacle, Surveillance, Exhibition, Expository Society, Foucault, Debord, Google, Facebook, NSA

Suggested Citation

Harcourt, Bernard E., Digital Security in the Expository Society: Spectacle, Surveillance, and Exhibition in the Neoliberal Age of Big Data (2014). Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-404; APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2455223 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2455223

Bernard E. Harcourt (Contact Author)

Columbia University ( email )

Jerome Green Hall, Room 515
435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.columbia.edu/fac/Bernard_Harcourt

Columbia University ( email )

7th Floor, International Affairs Bldg.
420 W. 118th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

HOME PAGE: http://polisci.columbia.edu/people/profile/1685

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