A special 2009 summer

by Vanessa L. Lara Carmona*

As a Mexican sociologist interested in social inequality issues, the Surveillance Summer Seminar was an excellent opportunity for me to explore the actual debate about the connection between surveillance practices, information networks and social sorting. I was given one of the Surveillance Studies Network Global Scholarships, and it allowed me to enjoy one of the most interesting experiences of my professional life, which was to discuss with people from different countries who are doing research on a common thematic field.

Several different disciplinary perspectives and empirical experiences converged at the seminar. By the end all the participants agreed that it is very important to listen not just to what others have written, but also how they came to it, how new questions emerge after writing or discussion with colleagues, and how are they plan to continue their research. Here is a brief account of the questions I’m most interested in, and their relationship with the Surveillance Summer Seminar.

Previous months to the seminar, my reading was focused on the way in which contemporary societies are facing the presence of surveillance technologies in a wide range of fields. Specially, I was interested in the connection between the way these technologies work and the social sorting logics that are at the basis of them. After that, in the summer seminar, speakers pointed out the way in which actual surveillance practices reinforce social sorting based upon race, ethnicity, education, gender, et cetera, by means of generating profiles of social categories.

Having listened speakers and reading some papers from different countries, but most of them from English-speaking countries, I thought that because of the social, economic and political configuration differences among countries, researchers from regions like Latin America should think about the questions we have to pose before we start talking about the effects of surveillance technologie.

Those questions have to do with a context of persistent social inequality, specific socio-demographic characteristics, political configuration, economic development, et cetera, that perform the way technological surveillance actually works in Latin America; which are the implications of these issues on the design, covering and functioning of the information based surveillance practices?

For example, in Mexico, findings of the Encuesta Nacional de Juventud, 2005 [1] (National Youth Survey 2005) show that 74.8 percent of youth men, and 82.1 percent of youth women, don’t have internet in their home, furthermore, 66. 3 percent of youth men and 75.2 percent of youth women don’t have personal computer; would it be relevant for the analysis of the internet role in surveillance issues? Why?

Maybe we could say that these percentages are a starting point to ask about the extent to which youth people are exposed to personal information collection by internet. More questions would have to be oriented to know what kind of youth people we are taking about?, that is: who the minority percentage is, and who the majority? What does the difference in the percentages actually means in terms of the access and use of internet? And what implications it has on surveillance society configuration?

To reflect on this kind of questions would give us some insights about the way societies like Mexico are taking part in global information based surveillance societies, and also gives the surveillance researches the occasion to meet once again in the near future.


* Doctoral Candidate, El Colegio de México. Sociology professor at Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y Sociales, Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México. email: vanessa.lara.carmona@gmail.com

[1] Secretaría de Educación Pública (2006) Encuesta Nacional de Juventud. Resultados Preliminares. SEP- Instituto Mexicano de la Juventud.