A first line of defence? Vigilant surveillance, participatory policing, and the reporting of “suspicious” activity

Sebastian Larsson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)
386 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

What is at stake when citizens are encouraged to deploy vigilant surveillance and report what they consider to be unusual and “suspicious” activity? This article explores the current role of vigilance in contemporary Western security practices aimed at battling terrorist acts and major crime. It does so by critically analysing official constructions of suspiciousness, the responsibilisation process of participatory policing, and the assignments of prejudiced amateur detectives. It concludes, firstly, that the agency offered by political campaigns such as “If You See Something, Say Something” is highly illusive since the act of reporting simply demarcates where participation ends, and where fear and paranoia are turned into legitimate intelligence, enabling the state to exercise authoritative action and preemptive violence. Secondly, these kinds of vigilance initiatives also nurture a normalisation of suspicion towards strangers since the encouragements to be aware of anything-and-anyone deemed “out of the ordinary”, as well as the tools for reporting such suspicions, increasingly creep into the mundane realms of everyday life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)94-107
Number of pages14
JournalSurveillance and Society
Volume15
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017

Keywords

  • Policing
  • Responsibilisation
  • Suspicion
  • Vigilance

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