Chapter 6. Residential Fortification
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81 Chapter 6 Residential Fortification The quest for security organizes modern life. In a world perceived as increasingly unstable and insecure, the hyper-regulation of boundaries and borders has become a dominant response. Boundary regulation in urban and suburban settings may be seen most clearly with the rise of forti- fied enclaves, such as gated communities, but little attention has been paid to the ways in which technological surveillance contributes to spatial exclusion by means of its integration into urban space and its enforcement of social norms. This chapter illustrates how surveillance technologies and their related discourses communicate a sense of social stability that fails to match the lived experiences of people in both public housing and gated communities. As with gates and walls, electronic surveillance may operate as a less visible but similarly political fortification of urban space. Surveillance can simultaneously demarcate and police residents as well as outsiders, all the while presenting durable barriers to social inclusion for marginalized groups within cities. As discussed in chapter 4 on identity theft, responsibility for security is being distributed to individual citizens, or insecurity subjects, to ensure their own safety through consumption. On the level of the home front, this compels many home owners to purchase elaborate alarm systems, surveillance cameras, and private security services.1 Others elect to move into private gated communities where these services come as standard fare, in addition to guarded entry points and high walls, of course. While people who cannot afford or choose not to consume such security products may be thought of as being “on their own,” others who depend upon state assistance, such as people living in public housing, are treated as if they are suspect to begin with and in need of paternalistic supervision. Nonetheless, few people living in these settings question these neoliberal trends, and most people seemingly believe in the benefits of privatization and security interventions, even if they do not personally taste the promised fruit of these changes. This chapter argues that remarkable similarities exist between the experiences of residents in low-income public housing and gated communities. Contrary to the popular discourse of surveillance as ensuring protection from external threats, in practice both groups feel subjected to undesired individual scrutiny and policing of their behaviors. One key difference lies in the relative mobility and minimal personal risk of gated community residents compared to those in public housing. For many living in public housing, this is not a “choice” but a necessity. A second difference lies in the underlying logics behind surveillance in these communities: toward the enforcement of disciplinary state laws in public housing (for example, targeting residents who are attempting to “cheat the system” in some way) and toward the enforcement of conformity in appearance and behavior in gated communities. These differences are important because they underline the fact that while security regimes may be proliferating throughout society, the burdens of surveillance are not distributed equally. Fortified Spaces The literature on fortified enclaves highlights the ways that built forms and social norms function politically to enforce sociospatial segregation and to send clear symbolic messages about who does and does not belong.2 While design deterrents to social integration may take the form of gated communities or enclosed malls and office buildings, they can also manifest in the more direct, if less visible, forms of benches that cannot be slept upon, sprinkler systems that keep people away from buildings or parks, or inadequate public transportation systems.3 The naturalization of urban and suburban designs may simultaneously serve to maintain certain social orders and exclusions while reducing public awareness of social problems. Fortified enclaves may be interpreted as reactions to the unsettling of social boundaries—whether through demographic shifts, the development of political democracy, or other factors.4 The privatization of public space allows “new urban morphologies of fear” to acquire durable, material forms that threaten to attenuate democracy and delegitimate public institutions.5 Although many gated community residents are concerned about security, people also base their decisions on a range of other factors, such as property values, convenience , or the lack of nongated alternatives.6 This last point is especially salient in cities like Phoenix, where gated communities account for one-third of all new residential construction. Even so, researchers have found that patterns of segregation, attenuated social life, and diminished property rights are enforced by such trends toward privatized gated living.7 Many public housing complexes can also be thought of as modern fortified enclaves. Under...

Subject Headings

  • National security -- United States
  • Internal security -- United States.
  • Electronic surveillance -- United States.
  • Technology -- Social aspects.
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