Being visible in public space: the normalisation of asymmetrical visibility

Hatuka, Tali and Eran Toch

Hatuka, T., & Toch, E. (2016). Being visible in public space: The normalisation of asymmetrical visibility. Urban Studies. doi:10.1177/0042098015624384

Asymmetrical Visibility , Public , Virtual Space

Over recent decades, cities have been radically transformed by information and communication technologies (ICTs) that modify people’s daily lives by reorganising mobility, infrastructure sys- tems and physical spaces. However, in addition to the role that technology plays in the develop- ment of the infrastructure in our cities, it is also being used ‘as a means of control’. This view of technology as a disciplinary tool that restructures space, time and the relations among activities has been promoted by scholars who have shown that technology is also a means of saturating and sustaining contemporary capitalist societies and deepening inequalities. However, the situa- tion is far more complex than that. Technology is not only used top-down but also bottom-up, with individuals using technological devices to share and enhance their visibility in space. This bidirectional paradigm – of vertical surveillance and horizontal sharing – contributes to a sense of ‘being exposed’ in public space that normalises practices of sharing personal data by individuals and thus results in diminished privacy. This argument is supported by an experiment conducted on smartphone users that includes personal interviews and the use of a smartphone Android application that combines online tracking with experience sampling. The findings show a conver- gence between the online and offline worlds (a ‘public’ situation in the offline world is also consid- ered as such in the online world), which is a condition that contributes to the normalisation of ‘asymmetrical visibility’. Based on these results, the paper ends with a discussion of the contem- porary meaning of public space.

Main finding
This is an investigation of how visibility has changed in public places because of the growing acceptance of digital technologies. Public space used to be understood as the visible space (where people can see and be seen) whereas the private space was the invisible space. Now the tendance has changed as we are "always" visible through social media. The visibility of individuals is not only vertical (government agency surveilling) but also horizontal - which is in the long run (re)shaping social relations between individuals

Description of method used in the article

Of practical use

Organising categories

Field Observations Interviews
Physical types
Geographic locations