Panopticism and Complicity
The State of Surveillance and Everyday Oppression in Libraries, Archives, and Museums
Historically, libraries, archives, and museums—or LAM institutions—have been complicit in enacting state power by surveilling and policing communities. This article broadens previous scholars’ critiques about individual institutions to LAM institutions writ large, drawing connections between these sites and ongoing racist, classist, and oppressive designs. We do so by dialing in on the ethical premise that justifies panoptic systems, utilitarianism, and how the glorification of pragmatism reifies systems of control and oppression. First, we revisit LIS applications of Benthamian and Foucauldian ideas of panoptic power to examine the role of LAM institutions as sites of social enmity. We then describe examples of surveillance and state power as they manifest in contemporary data infrastructure and information practices, showing how LAM institutional fixations with utilitarianism reify the U.S. carceral state through norms such as the aggregation and weaponization of user data and the overreliance on metrics. We argue that such practices are akin to widespread systems of surveillance and criminalization. Finally, we reflect on how LAM workers can combat structures that rely on oppressive assumptions and claims to information authority.
Pre-print first published online February 10, 2023
Copyright (c) 2022 Ana Ndumu, Victoria Van Hyning, Diana E. Marsh, Sydney Triola
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