The third Surveillance & Society conference will be held at the Centre for Criminological Research, University of Sheffield, 2nd to 3rd of April 2008. The conference will focus on everyday experiences of surveillance and feature keynote speakers Zygmunt Bauman, David Lyon and John McGrath. As announced on the conference homepage, participants are encouraged to present empirical case studies that document our everyday exposure to the networks of postpanoptic surveillance society, particularly the different technologies and administrative regimes that make us visible in partial and not necessarily oppressive ways.
Susanne and I are giving a joint presentation on the topic of distributed surveillance and digital registries in non-invasive medicine and health policy today. This is an excellent opportunity to get into the anthology co-writing mood, i.e. Curating Biomedicine, which is our current in house project at Medical Museion. Here is our abstract for the forthcoming conference:
Distributed surveillance in biomedicine: Individual bodies and populations as digital registries
This paper addresses the digitisation of biomedicine by exploring recent modes of distributed surveillance. It presents two case studies – 1) on the digital transformation and the data surveillance of the clinical body, and 2) on the production of population data in large scale, sometimes nationwide medical data collecting and tracking projects and on how they transform clinical decision-making. Together these cases illustrate the post-panoptic view of the body in biomedicine, from the patient to the population.
The emergence of non-invasive or minimal invasive techniques in clinical medicine is highly dependent on electro-optical systems and digital networks. Through the use of powerful scanners and miniaturized cameras, bodies undergoing clinical treatment, are spatially disrupted and transformed into electronic sites, which are distributed and monitored inside hospitals as well as outside. The promise of non-invasive, non-painful, almost non-sensible cures has won considerable recognition among patients. However, as much as these techniques tend to minimize the need for larger incisions and painful examinations, they build on an extensive registration of the body, as if distributed surveillance was a counterpart of non-invasive medicine.
Digital databases containing health data of patient populations or the general population constitute another form of distributed surveillance. As flexible ‘surveillant assemblages’, they are continuously monitored for the purpose of health policy. They play a key role in the social management of disease and in prevention, in clinical decision-making of evidence-based medicine. While on the one hand these studies are used for the governance of populations in the tradition of surveillance medicine, individuals take up health statistics in order to make sense of their own bodies; for instance using web-based risk assessment tools. In distributed surveillance, the ‘imaginary of surveillant control’ of governance might be complemented by an ‘imaginary of participation’.