Call for papers
Is Big Brother (Still) Watching Us? Britain under Surveillance
Annual Conference of the Association for the Study of British Cultures
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, 17-19 November 2011

"Datavaillance," Facebook and CCTV - it sometimes seems that we live in a world of total observation. Whether walking the streets of London (or many other major cities) or navigating the virtual environment of the internet, most of our movements and actions are potentially open to inspection and evaluation by others. Perhaps the epithets "Orwellian" and "panoptical" - habitually applied to describe our experience of the present - are not entirely unwarranted.

A closer consideration of reality, however, suggests that such labels might be applied a little too nonchalantly. For although surveillance seems ubiquitous today, the study of its manifold manifestations explains why the phenomenon is more complex than the by now reflexive reference to the totalitarian fantasies of Orwell and Foucault suggests: Surveillance is neither a unilateral nor an all-encompassing experience. Many forms of surveillance not only rely on the participation of its targets (be it through the traces left involuntarily during internet shopping sprees or as expressed in the conscious demand for more and better surveillance technology), it also is spectacularly fallible. The images taken by surveillance cameras often only become meaningful after the events they are meant to prevent have taken place and these data are also regularly disregarded or misinterpreted - in fact, one might argue that gathering data has become an aim unto itself. At the same time, surveillance can be and is successfully avoided and undermined, as people appropriate the images taken by surveillance cameras, explore their blind spots or indeed interfere with their hardware.

Rather than providing yet another occasion for a collective complaint about the all-seeing surveillance state, this conference aims to explore the complexities, faultlines and failures of this modern phenomenon. How does "surveillance" actually work (and when does it fail)? Which methods of analysing it do justice to its ambivalences? Which conditions allow it to be introduced, maintained and expanded. How do people respond to it? Above all, are there ways of counter-surveillance through which resistance is possible?

We invite proposals for 20-min papers in English addressing the following areas (or aspects thereof):
  • Surveillance and urban space
  • Historical perspectives on surveillance
  • Legal, political and public debates around surveillance (whether offering support or voicing resistance to it)
  • Representations of surveillance in the arts, literature and film

Please send 300-word abstracts accompanied by a short biographical blurb by 1 April 2011 to Prof. Dr. Anja Müller-Wood, Department of English and Linguistics, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz (