- Going Stealth: Transgender Politics and U.S. Surveillance Practices by Toby Beauchamp, and: Performance, Transparency, and the Cultures of Surveillance by James M. Harding, and: Forever Suspect: Racialized Surveillance of Muslim Americans in the War on Terror by Saher Selod
Going Stealth: Transgender Politics and U.S. Surveillance Practices. By Toby Beauchamp. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019; 208 pp.; illustrations. $94.95 cloth, $24.95 paper, e-book available.
Performance, Transparency, and the Cultures of Surveillance. By James M. Harding. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2018; 326 pp.; illustrations. $80.00 cloth, $34.95 paper, e-book available.
Forever Suspect: Racialized Surveillance of Muslim Americans in the War on Terror. By Saher Selod. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2018; 174 pp. $120.00 cloth, $31.95 paper, e-book available.
In the introduction to his book, Performance, Transparency, and the Cultures of Surveillance, James M. Harding writes, "rather than ushering in an era of increasing transparency—which is the basic paradigm of egalitarian democracies—surveillance technologies and the cultures that accompany them have in fact cultivated radically new and postdemocratic formations of power and authority that are shrouded in fortified opacity" (5).
Harding's book, along with Saher Selod's Forever Suspect: Racialized Surveillance of Muslim Americans in the War on Terror and Toby Beauchamp's Going Stealth: Transgender Politics and U.S. Surveillance Practices pierce through the "fortified opacity" of our (postdemocratic) surveillance society in order to scrutinize the sociopolitical optics and material impacts of contemporary surveillance methods on a range of communities and individuals. Each of these three books adds new and vital perspectives to the emerging canon of cultural criticism on contemporary surveillance society: Harding focuses on artist-activist interventions into privatized surveillance; Selod on experiences and perceptions of Muslim Americans after 9/11; and Beauchamp on transgender politics as they intertwine with institutional surveillance policies. Taken together, these important books constitute a coalition of academic activism across fields of sociology, transgender studies, and performance studies, as these skilled authors bring to visibility the ways in which the institutionalization, automation, and privatization of surveillance practices divide, stigmatize, and oppress communities under the mythos of national security.
Harding's Performance, Transparency, and the Cultures of Surveillance positions surveillance as a performance-based concept and practice that has long historical roots. Through a range of case studies, dramatic texts, and art practices, he compares 21st-century methods of surveillance and counter-surveillance to earlier political and aesthetic movements, ranging from 20th-century avantgarde art and cultural activism to 15th-century religious painting and the ancient Code of Hammurabi. Holding this long view of surveillance in frame, Harding raises foundational questions about how we, individually and as a culture, are responding to contemporary conditions of surveillance: Why do we acquiesce to the social categories into which surveillance technologies seek to sort us? What might we learn from the histories of avantgarde arts activism that can help guide us towards necessary and even productively dangerous action against dominant regimes of surveillance?
Throughout the book's six chapters, Harding provides thorough explanations and engaging analyses of worrisome trends in privatization, neoliberal economic structures, and racism in contemporary surveillance society. Each chapter (the titles of which cleverly modify the concept of visual power: God's Eyes; Private Eyes; Blind Eyes; Electronic Eyes; Downcast Eyes; An Eye for an Eye) considers the impacts of surveillance techniques and technologies within and across a series of ideological and material practices of 20th- and 21st-century life, including Christian narratives embedded in Western culture, 1960s political activism, maximum security prisons, [End Page 184] the growing private sector...