The Function(s) of Public Place Surveillance in Responding to Visible Homelessness in Brisbane, Australia

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 08:55
Oral Presentation
Andrew CLARKE, Institute for Social Science Research, University of Queensland, Australia
Public place surveillance is identified as a key infrastructure shaping power relationships in contemporary cities. In most accounts, surveillance is characterised as an indispensable feature of systems of urban social control that aim to secure prime urban areas for a narrow set of economic and consumerist functions, namely business, shopping, entertainment and tourism. This is particularly true of homelessness research, where studies have shown how surveillance practices, such as CCTV and security patrols, are deployed alongside defensive architecture and legislation criminalising conduct specific to homelessness (e.g. public sleeping, begging, etc.) to exclude people who are homeless from urban areas where there presence is deemed to disrupt the aesthetic order and intended (commercial) uses of those spaces. However, a number of recent studies have shown that these social control systems are not the only game in town when it comes to responding to homelessness in cities. Instead, a range of more supportive objectives and practices exist alongside of, and often in coordination with, control oriented responses. In this paper, I explore what the existence of these more supportive objectives and practices means for the function of surveillance in governmental responses to visible homelessness. I do this through a case study of the city of Brisbane, Australia, wherein I investigate the different objectives and strategies to which surveillance practices are harnessed, and the different power relationships in which surveillance is implicated, including the relationship between agencies who deploy surveillance for security purposes (police, city councils, etc.) and social services who provide support to people who are homeless. Drawing on Foucault's insight that power relationships are always open and dynamic, I argue that surveillance practices can in fact be deployed to support people who are homeless by augmenting outreach and support services and mitigating the insecurities of street life.