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Christoph Müller, Zurich, Switzerland

«It's not about privacy, it's about control! --
Critical remarks on CCTV and the public/private dichotomy
from a sociological perspective»


Presentation at the conference «CCTV and Social Control:
The politics and practice of video surveillance
-- European and Global perspectives»
8th / 9th January 2004 in Sheffield (UK),

--> a preliminary draft version -- still to be revised -- is available as PDF-file (64 kB)

--> Comments are welcome!




The notion of «privacy» differs significantly, depending on cultural and language contexts as well as on situations. Today, discussions of data protection is often dominated by the concept of «privacy as a castle». In this concept, «privacy» is regarded as a territory, protected by walls and fences. In my presentation, I will challenge this individualistic view from different perspectives:

From a social-historical perspective, I am following historians like Michel Foucault who have noted that privacy and control are embedded in larger trends of political and social changes, and that the concept of «privacy» can not be generalized. On the other hand, I follow Jürgen Habermas' argumentation stressing the importance of «public spheres» for the development of modern «deliberative democracies».

From a sociological point of view, it seems more useful to focus on interactions and on social relations, instead of concentrating on «territorial» concepts of privacy. Here, I am following the work of Georg Simmel and the interactional theory of Erving Goffman.

Taking the example of camera surveillance systems in public places (as well as an example from online communication services) as a background, I try to show that sociological research (as well as political action) should focus (a) more on the «public sphere» than on «privacy», and (b) on the important question of «control», especially on the collectively achieved interactional control of situations where people meet in public spaces. As far as CCTV systems are to be considered as parts of the «settings» of public spaces, we may expect that this fact is influencing the (re-)production process of public spheres.


--> a preliminary draft version -- still to be revised -- is available as PDF-file (64 kB)

--> Comments are welcome!


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