Identity, surveillance and modernity

Sorting out who’s who

Authored by: Richard Jenkins

Routledge Handbook of Surveillance Studies

Print publication date:  March  2012
Online publication date:  April  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415588836
eBook ISBN: 9780203814949
Adobe ISBN: 9781136711077


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Identity is a matter of knowing “who’s who,” and if we didn’t know that we wouldn’t know “what’s what” either. A sophisticated classificatory ability to identify others and ourselves is what makes the human world, the largely taken-for-granted environment within which we live our everyday lives, possible. Human beings, on the basis of a relatively small number of cues, are able to identify the finest of collective and individual similarities and differences between people, identifying themselves and others as individuals and as members of collectivities. This entails registering, inferring and interpreting a variety of verbal and nonverbal information. Whether or not these identifications are “accurate,” the process of identification contributes to a more or less stable sense of predictability during interaction, which allows behavior to be adjusted in a spirit of conflict avoidance or provocation, and in a host of other ways produces and reproduces everyday life as a navigable environment (Goffman 1969). Identification is absolutely central to “knowing what we are doing” as competent human beings.

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