Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Drawing upon ethnographic insights into the “practices, contestations and lived processes” (Glück and Low 2017) of organizers, police officers, and federal contracts, this paper juxtaposes the dynamic aspects of Houston’s surveillance landscape. In this landscape of the fourth largest city in the US, police officers were equipped with body-worn cameras following the nationwide conversations about the possibilities of transparency through continuous video. Meanwhile, the DEA and ICE gained access to Houston’s city cameras under the guise of drug trafficking, human smuggling, and “other illicit activities.” However, activist and legal groups draw attention to the lack of public access to the videos of city and police cameras. Without trust in the judicial system, these organizers request legal observers at protests and public events to essentially police the police and counteract the possibility of civil rights abuses. This surveillance landscape of federal access to city cameras, the potentials and deficiencies of body-worn cameras, and organizations monitoring these activities for civil rights abuses begs the question: what subjectivities are being enabled and protected with surveillance? How are the “affective, imaginative, and material terms of everyday life” (Masco 2017) being reconfigured? With an awareness of how surveillance in its many forms is not new (Dubrofsky and Magnet 2015) and is unequally applied to brown and black bodies (Browne 2016), this paper employs critical anthropology of security and surveillance and feminist surveillance studies to ask questions about the possibilities of trust, transparency, and subjectivities in complex surveillance landscapes.