Sniffing the city: issues of sousveillance in inner city London

Cardullo, Paolo. 2014. Sniffing the city: issues of sousveillance in inner city London. Visual Studies, 29(3), pp. 285-293. ISSN 1472-586X [Article]

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This article reflects on a series of workshops run by the art/media/hacktivist collective Deptford.TV in collaboration with the Centre for Urban and Community Research (CUCR), Goldsmiths, University of London in 2009–2010 and in 2012. The aim of the workshops was to create short films using hacked CCTV material. Participants, equipped with digital video signal receivers, were led through the city by incoming surveillance camera signals. Receivers cached surveillance camera signals making a range of city spaces visible. The material was then stored on a shared video platform and reshuffled in personal narratives and montages of the city. Hackers and media artists call it ‘sousveillance’ and frame it as a critique of the ‘panopticon society’. I argue that this practice reveals an unusually realistic portrait of inner city London and its working-class population at their everyday work. My contention is that the absence of such activities in narratives of gentrification and the presumed end of manual work make this portrait particularly valuable. The article evaluates this emerging and ethically controversial practice of video recording, asking to what extent it can become a useful tool for urban scholars, visual sociologists and media artists. In conclusion, I argue that the exercise provides moments of self-discovery for the urban stroller, who – while practicing a sort of heroic immersion in inner city London – paradoxically becomes a watcher of scenes from life fabricated at a ‘safe’ distance; a middle way between urban ethnographer and flâneur.

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October 2014Published

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11 Jan 2016 22:33

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29 Apr 2020 16:13

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