The Panoptic Sort: Surveillance Q&A with Oscar Gandy

Professor Emeritus Oscar H. Gandy, Jr.’s groundbreaking book “The Panoptic Sort” (Westview Press, 1993) led the way in directing our attention to the surveillance activities of commercial firms. Other publications at the time were focused on the privacy concerns of individuals, but Gandy’s book helped us understand what was at stake when the bureaucracies of government and commerce gathered our personal information and used it to manage social, economic, and political activities.

Oscar Gandy headshot
Oscar Gandy. (Image: Annenberg School for Communication)

Here, Gandy discusses how surveillance has changed over the last three decades, what risks it poses, and what we can expect in the future.

“All of us engage in surveillance of our environments. “The Panoptic Sort” defines surveillance as the gathering of data and transforming it through a variety of analytic methods into a resource for the production of influence or control over the behavior of others,” he says.

”Much of what has changed since the first edition has been based on the kinds of technologies that have been developed to differentiate between individuals and the kinds of groups that could be defined through algorithmically enabled processing of the massive amounts of data that were being generated and captured by digital technologies interconnected through the internet.”

“This new economic system has been characterized by a number of observers who have offered their own versions of a label provided by Shoshana Zuboff—that of ‘surveillance capitalism,’” he explains. “According to Zuboff and others, wealth is being created through the surveillant capture of human experience, transforming it into a variety of techniques for influencing or controlling human behavior. At the same time, the development of social media, such as that represented by Facebook has expanded quite rapidly. These new media forms not only capture attention, but they are being used to cultivate a kind of performative addiction toward making information about oneself available to countless others for new forms of cultural production and consumption.”

Read more at Annenberg School for Communication.