The Hair on the Back of Your Neck: Thoughts on Affective Transmission in Security

What does a security camera do?

The answer seems obvious at first: A security camera watches a given area, presides over it, and surveils it. The space that the camera keeps in view becomes seen, becomes watched, and thus under control.

In a strictly functional sense, this makes sense. The camera, mounted on a wall, in a hallway, or over a door, extends and amplifies the possible vision of the people wishing to surveil the area, thereby extending their capacity, increasing their efficiency, etc… In turn, this allows for a much greater area to be surveilled and patrolled, and thus secured. But there is more to the security camera than this.

Let’s take a step back. It may be helpful to borrow Deleuze and Guattari’s conception of the assemblage to cast a wider net in our analysis. A camera is always more than a camera in its confined immediacy of objectness—A security camera is connected in one way or another to a multiplicity of other technologies, people, concepts, spaces, and spaces that together constitute what we might call a security assemblage.

The purpose of a security assemblage is purportedly to secure. What the object of security is may differ from that which is stated by the camera’s operators, but the essential thrust of security remains unchanged. What matters is securing something—whether people, objects, or appearances—from an expected and feared attempt at harm or seizure.

Again, we return to the question: What does a security camera do?

A security camera secures, not only through watching, but also through its presence, through the affect it projects and assemblage it signals. Many cameras, the ones visible to us on street corners, at stoplights, above checkout counters, make themselves visible, and functions both to see and be seen.

When we notice that a camera is watching us, its gaze works on us in two ways. Through its corporeal presence, it signals, and calls to mind, the presence of an elaborate, mysterious, and omnipotent security assemblage, ready to work upon the space in which the camera’s gaze is cast. This is the sense in which we are conscious of being watched and understand our situation rationally: we know what a camera means for a space, and guide our actions accordingly. Security cameras, in watching us, are signifiers of an impersonal and abstract power, and thus work in a symbolic way that seeks to restrict the actions of those in the watched space.

But this gaze works on us subconsciously as well, in ways we might not realize at first. Teresa Brennan’s work on the transmission of affect is helpful here in understanding how environments work on our emotional selves in subtle and complex ways.

For Brennan, transmission of affect happens when the world exterior to one’s body intervenes, in some way, with the biochemistry and physiology of the individual. Everyone has experienced walking into a room and feeling the atmosphere, she says in her book Transmission of Affect. “The ‘atmosphere’ or the environment literally gets into the individual,” she states, pointing out that the discrete biological body, divorced from social reality and from the environment, is nothing but a myth. What is so interesting about this phenomenon of affect is that, while you may notice something ‘in the air’ consciously, your body is also registering and reacting to that something in physical, measurable ways. Our pace might quicken or our palms might get sweaty in a high-stress environment, and it may not have all that much to do with our conscious feelings of unease.

In this context, then, we can appreciate the role of security cameras in an entirely different light. The camera watches. We see the camera watching us, and consciously monitor our behavior. But the transmission of affect teaches us that the camera can also work on us in stranger ways. What does a security camera do to the body, simply by being in an environment? This, I think, is a very interesting question, though one which may remain unanswerable for the time being.

All of us have no doubt felt, at one point or another, as though we are being watched. Even if we have no foul intentions, might the hair on our back of our necks stand up? Might our pulse quicken ever so slightly? Perhaps. In science, where observation is the rule, the observer’s paradox might preclude any final answers, for in observing someone being observed (or not), the phenomenon being studied is the same as the method of inquiry. What we can say for certain is that security cameras, in their seemingly endless proliferation, do change the environments in which they act, and do change the behaviors of those they watch, in more ways than meet the eye.

~ by samkelloggmcc on October 4, 2016.

5 Responses to “The Hair on the Back of Your Neck: Thoughts on Affective Transmission in Security”

  1. I found this to be best in engagement. That fact that you don’t have any gifs or images incorporated in your post allowed me to really focus on your words alone (which was interesting because I want expecting that). I enjoy how you pose a question and string it through your piece. I also really related to your piece because I had a recent experience in which a lack of surveillance afforded my family horrible experience. We don’t think much about how much the idea of being watched affects us/ people in general. But, we are being watched almost all of the time!
    Side note:I think the concept of the panopticon would also be in interesting element to incorporate into your research 🙂 …
    thanks for sharing!

    – Roche

  2. Best learning! I think it’s very clear through this blog post that you’re very familiar with the material we’ve been reading in class so far and you’ve been taking it into consideration when thinking about and creating your ecology. Especially in the part where you talk about atmosphere as it is defined in “The Transmission of Affect,” it ties in really well to your ecology or surveillance and how we act/feel differently when we know we’re being watched. Great job!

  3. I found this post the best for learning. I mean, we all know (at least, I think we do) what a security camera is. But you took it a step further and analyzed post-structurally what exactly a security camera is. You presented theory along with your analysis and I think I was able to really understand what a camera “is,” at least in terms of your chosen ecology.
    xx seth

  4. I think this is best in learning! I found your breakdown of the transmission of affect very helpful, especially when you reference the security camera and use it as your main example. You offered really great insight on how we can start analyzing and looking at objects in multiple perspectives and how there are so many things that come together that affect and interact with each other.

  5. Best in learning because you put your texts not into a list, but into a conversation with each other. At the same time this storytelling technique now makes your ecology seem, even more, still, nuanced.

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