ISSN: 1705-6411

Volume 12, Number 1 (January 2015)


Liquid Surveilance. Zygmunt Bauman and David Lyon. 2013, Buenos Aires, Paidos.

Reviewed by Maximiliano Korstanje
(Department of Economics, University of Palermo, Argentina)

The prolific legacy of Zygmunt Bauman, places under the lens of scrutiny a countless variety of themes and issues which ranges from globalization, to psychological fear. Jointly to David Lyon, in his recent book Liquid SurveillanceĀø Bauman explores the connection between mass-consumption and the dispositive of surveillance affordable by the digital era. One of the main points to understand his work, seems to be the belief that workers have become in commodities whose in egalitarian conditions should struggle to survive. They should compete not only to be elected as a product, but also not to be excluded from the formal trade circuits. It is interesting to discuss to what an extent workers do their best to avoid the symbolic death. Even though, both Lyon and Bauman acknowledge that 9/11 did not create in fact the logic of liquid surveillance, it accelerated the conditions of reproduction. Employing the term adiaforization, as a dissociation between action and ethic fields, Bauman adds that the introduction of technology originally was aimed at mitigating some major risks. However, it has paved the pathways for the advent of actions which are not linked to ethics, the subject at some extent, has not developed any commitment with the consequences its action generates.  The other was reduced to be subject to the operalization of machines, digital instruments manipulated by automats. Any error, any mistake at time of calculating an attack, should be labeled as “collateral damages”.

In this vein, Bauman and Lyon allude to what Arendt called, the banality of evil which means the burocratization of critiques over reason. Although Foucaultian observations were widely employed to study the social behavior in last decades, authors reply that now things have changed a lot. The old panoptic which suggested that few may watch many people, has set the pace to another reality. Few are gazed by the rest of society. A sense of imposed mobility given to all who can pay for that, but at the same time others are immobilized.  The archetype of tourists, as ambassadors of their cultures, or capital owners is contrasted to the future of migrants, who are traced, jailed and deported year by year.

The logic of surveillance, which was deepened by 9/11, accompanied expensive investment to monitor the trajectory of travellers and tourists. The identity of modern-tourist is being validated in a regular basis at time of flying or moving. But this creates a paradox, both authors advise.

Thousand years back, walls and cities protected to their citizens from the external threats. The devotion posed on the walls, entailed the preservation of certain rights. The enemy was always a stranger, regulated by the combination of violence and legality. Nowadays, rather, the liquid modernity has diminished the social trust necessary to cohabit with the other. Today, the enemy not only resides in the city, but also enlarged the psychological distance among citizens. The main thesis of this valuable book is that modern citizens adopt the surveillance-related technologies by two reasons. On one hand, it is imperative to control the other which remains to be an undesired guest. On another, used technology marks the citizens as a good person. Those who use technologies of surveillance are exorcised to be labeled as “criminals”.  In doing so, undesired guests who cannot pay for these technologies are marked and pushed to the peripheries of the city. This book suggests two significant ideas. First and foremost, the state is unable to protect their citizens because the power was conferred to trade. Modern nation state is obliged to give solutions for problems created elsewhere. This engendered a sense of anomie, by which the citizens feel vulnerable.  Secondly, the introduction of surveillance technology makes an unsafe world. The quest of order that characterizes the human existence is determined by the needs of change. The paradox lies in everything what we do, is to create a sense of stability we never will reach before death. If the society of risk imagined by Beck considered the risk as a result of action, the liquid surveillance goes in another direction. This new society does not accept the ethics boundaries between decision and risk, because any decision depends on the digital technology. In view of that, the other was being reduced to a cipher, a number, which are recreated as an object of uncertainty. That way, the technology of surveillance plays a pervasive role. It gives to citizens a reason to fear, offering  an alternative but temporal solution.