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Crime Prevention: Sociological Explanations of Surveillance

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 14 Nov 2018

Some sociologists argue that nowadays, in the name of crime prevention, we are under regular surveillance.

CCTV (closed‐circuit television) acts as a formal method of surveillance within society, recording and monitoring public behaviour. Its overt use can have a deterrent effect on criminal behaviour. CCTV footage is often used as evidence in court proceedings if criminal acts or the behaviour of suspects is caught on camera.

The increased use of CCTV is controversial because many are concerned that it is an invasion of people's civil liberties and privacy.

People have not generally consented to be watched and recorded and have no control over the future use of the footage.

There are also practical issues with CCTV as a crime prevention/detection method. The cost of the systems means that cameras are often not recording; and, to save money, some councils choose not to use them widely. Furthermore, the footage – particularly at night when many crimes in public spaces take place – is often of poor quality, not necessarily facilitating positive identification.

The postmodernist, Michel Foucault, has taken an interest in surveillance. Formal or external surveillance is an increasing feature of contemporary society with the use of CCTV and the monitoring of online activity. Foucault argues that we are so conscious of it that we now effectively monitor ourselves through internalised surveillance.

Internalised surveillance suggests we will behave in a socially‐desirable manner (or pretend to) for fear of judgement and reprimand from formal agencies because we are so used to being watched. This will include the food we give to babies and the care with which we recycle. Our consciousness of surveillance makes us conform in order to avoid being labelled deviant in comparison to our peers.

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