‘The gaze without eyes’: video-surveillance and the changing nature of urban space

Hille Koskela

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Koskela, H. (1). ‘The gaze without eyes’: video-surveillance and the changing nature of urban space. Progress in Human Geography, 24(2), 243–265. http://dx.doi.org/10.1191/030913200668791096

CCTV , cities , emotions , planning , power relations , production of space , surveillance , urban

This article discusses how ever-increasing video-surveillance is changing the nature of urban space. The article evaluates whether surveillance can be seen as a means of making space safer and ‘more available’. The main focus is on surveillance in publicly accessible spaces, such as shopping malls, city streets and places for public transport. The article explains how space under surveillance is formed, and how it is related to power structures and human emotions. Space is conceptualized from various viewpoints. Three concepts of space are postulated: space as a container, power-space and emotional space. The purpose is not to construct a meta-theory of space; rather, the concepts are used as ‘tools’ for exploring the issue of surveillance. It is argued that video-surveillance changes the ways in which power is exercised, modifies emotional experiences in urban space and affects the ways in which ‘reality’ is conceptualized and understood. Surveillance contributes to the production of urban space.

Main finding
The author argues that surveillance has changed the nature of urban space to produce a new kind of space understood in three ways: space as container, power-space, and emotional space - all of which are social spaces. Space as container is considered disorienting and alienating due in part to the camera’s own objectivity and passive inability to affect situations in progress as well as the objectification and simplification of the human being observed. Power-space involves aspects of Foucault’s panopticon such as visibility of the observing mechanism, unverifiability of when you’re watched, anonymity of who is surveilling, and the influence of the gaze - all of which the author argues can be gendered (eg. surveillance as masculine harassment toward observed women). Lastly, emotional space grants perspective to those being watched and considers the ambivalence of surveillance (ie. the reminder of male power is supposed to protect from male power).

Description of method used in the article
Based on reviews of literature and theorization influenced by Foucault and others, the author developed three mutually connected theoretical conceptions of space: as container, as set of power-relations and as emotional space. These concepts were then used as tools to identify and discuss different spatial dimensions of video-surveilled places and determine if surveillance is making these spaces (ie. shopping malls, streets, and public transport) more available to the public.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Other or N/A
Physical types
Streets Transportation Hubs
Geographic locations