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Accepted Paper:

Self-surveilling bodies: ethical and methodological reflections on self-surveillance  
Mikkel Kenni Bruun (King's College London)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on fieldwork with users of digital health apps, this paper explores how anthropologists might engage in the study of surveillance where self-monitoring becomes a method of ethnography. Methodological and ethical commitments pose challenging questions to an ethnography of self-surveillance.

Paper long abstract:

Studying surveillance ethnographically could be said to involve methodological commitments that might not always sit comfortably with certain ethical orientations. Moral monitoring, as I make use of the term here, implies a right to privacy in monitorial contexts and the potential attainability of non-surveillance. Such an ethical orientation concerns not only the lives of research participants but also the ethnographer and extends well beyond both researcher and researched. Situated in the context of health surveillance in Britain and focussing on the use of digital health apps in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, this paper asks questions about the significance of the ethnographer when practices of self-surveillance or self-monitoring become not only an object of ethnography but emerge as a method of ethnography. Ethnographic fieldwork relies intrinsically on bodies (our own body and the bodies of others) that make different modes of participation and observation possible, and their intersection and distinction. Ethnographic research on self-surveilling bodies might place reliance on a readiness on the part of the ethnographer to subject their own corporeal or mental life to digital self-monitoring and the collection of ‘personal data’. In the context of digital health and related fields, new ethical dilemmas can thus be seen to ensue from a methodological commitment to immerse ourselves in the worlds we study. Such a commitment at the heart of anthropology is one that poses important challenges to an ethical orientation towards ‘moral monitoring’ in states of surveillance.

Panel P020a
Ethnographies of surveillance: a methodological conversation I
  Session 1 Friday 29 July, 2022, -