The technology and the artefacts of social control – Monitoring criminal and anti-social behaviour through and in media cultures

publishedDate21 December 2010
Pages109-128
Date21 December 2010
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/S1521-6136(2010)0000015008
AuthorStuart Connor,Richard Huggins
THE TECHNOLOGY AND
THE ARTEFACTS OF SOCIAL
CONTROL – MONITORING
CRIMINAL AND ANTI-SOCIAL
BEHAVIOUR THROUGH AND
IN MEDIA CULTURES
Stuart Connor and Richard Huggins
ABSTRACT
The potential afforded by contemporary forms of surveillance to monitor
vast amounts of information raises a number of problems, including ‘who
or what’ should be distinguished as the subject of surveillance and how is
the extension and intensification of surveillance to be legitimated without
encroaching on the sensibilities of those who deem themselves innocent.
It is argued that the ‘chav’, one of the latest variants of an underclass
discourse to emerge in the United Kingdom, provides an example of how
an ideological figure can be employed both to justify the introduction of
disciplinary surveillance technologies and become the proposed identifica-
tion of targets for such apparatus. Following an outline of the term
underclass and a guide to the language and imagery of the ‘chav’, the
argument presented in this chapter is developed and represented through
Social Control: Informal, Legal and Medical
Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance, Volume 15, 109–128
Copyright r2010 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved
ISSN: 1521-6136/doi:10.1108/S1521-6136(2010)0000015008
109
an examination of a range of media representing and responding to anti-
social behaviour. The utilisation of media to render visible and represent
those seen as responsible for anti-social and criminal behaviour is both an
application of new technologies of surveillance and a re-invention of older
forms of collective and communal punishment, control and regulation.
What these examples share is the communication of a frame that equates
‘chavs’ with ‘anti-social’ behaviour and surveillance as a central
component of any strategy for community safety. Thus, rather than the
existence of ‘chavs’, or any allegedly threatening ‘other’ requiring
surveillance, it is argued that it is surveillance that requires the existence
of the ‘chav’. Put another way, if ‘chavs’ did not exist, then, for the
exponents of surveillance at least, they would have to be invented.
FRAMING ‘CHAVS’: THE SUBJECT OF
SURVEILLANCE
An inherent and necessary characteristic of surveillance is that a distinction
needs to be drawn between the surveyor and those to be surveyed. This may
appear to be a rather obvious statement to make, but the question of how
this distinction is drawn is important, not only for the technical and
practical purposes of establishing who is to survey and who is to be the
target for surveillance but also because it goes to the heart of questions
regarding the legitimacy or otherwise of surveillance as a strategy of
government. At a time when the arguments and attempts to undertake
surveillance appear to be extended and intensified, how do the proponents
of surveillance seek to reassure ‘innocents’ that they are not to be subject to
the surveillance gaze. It is argued here that the twin aims of establishing
the need for surveillance and then assuring the ‘public’ that it is safe from
both the alleged threat and the scrutiny of surveillance are achieved through
what is perhaps the archetypical device for influencing political opinion, the
evocation of the ‘other’.
In contemporary society, a number of alleged others are available, but
of particular interest to this chapter is the maintenance and legacy of this
distinction in the citizenry through the continued circulation of contem-
porary underclass discourses. In Britain, a number of governments have
been keen to differentiate between the much vaunted ‘hardworking families
and tax payers’,
1
and a rediscovery of an alleged virulent underclass.
In recent years, this underclass has been expressed in the public imaginary
STUART CONNOR AND RICHARD HUGGINS110

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