The atmosphere of CCTV: visibility, narrative, encounter
AffiliationSchool of Social and Political Sciences
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2017 Dr. Caitlin Overington
Departing from traditional research that measures the impact of closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV) as a crime prevention tool, this thesis interrogates its lesser-known effects in the city. While international evidence continues to demonstrate that CCTV does not prevent interpersonal crime, investment in this surveillance technology endures. Public support, often intensified in moments of extreme and public violence, also endures. The murder of Jill Meagher in 2012 is a primary example. Across Australia, public CCTV networks were (re)invested in after CCTV footage of Meagher and her killer emerged in the media. Far from demonstrating the failure of CCTV to protect Meagher, the footage guaranteed the persistence of CCTV, and facilitated further expansion of security camera networks. Such a dynamic of reinvestment after spectacular criminal event can be found elsewhere, notably in cities in the United Kingdom. This thesis contributes a framework for understanding this and other paradoxes of CCTV. As a security camera and as a producer of a visual image, CCTV is often used to make narrative sense of violence, without a concomitant understanding of how its restricted framing of the city contributes to heightened anxieties about danger. Urban places are far more than just inanimate spaces. Concepts of the city are being created and recreated in a complex way, as people move through it, during day and night. Experiences of light and darkness, gender, narrative, and memory combine with surveillance technologies in unexpected ways. Extensive evidence demonstrates that if CCTV was intended to prevent crime or to produce safer streets, it fails. However, recent research also suggests that the uses of CCTV are expanding, through its use as a method of identification of suspects after the commission of crime and through an increasing sense that it can assist in the governance of public spaces. The purpose of CCTV has thus evolved far from its role as a simple crime prevention tool. Engaging with emergent research methods and theoretical paradigms in criminology, this thesis elucidates the continuing consequences of CCTV for everyday life in contemporary cities. It contributes to an ongoing critical analysis of governmental and private investment in CCTV, and focuses questions around the interconnectedness of CCTV use with broader securitisation strategies within surveillance networks, many of which are targeted towards the monitoring of marginalised populations. Read within the broader social, political, and historical context of CCTV in Melbourne, this thesis shows that CCTV produces a city that cannot ‘see’ without it.
KeywordsCCTV; surveillance; criminology; human geography; gender studies; visibility; narrative criminology
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