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Surveillance Assemblage Essay

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Updated: Mar 5th, 2020


Surveillance is a concept that has attracted valid views from different people. With regard to Zimmer (2008), Weber perceived surveillance as a tool that is utilised to enhance administrative efficiency of governments and various states (p.204). In this perspective, surveillance enabled capitalistic nations to benefit more in terms of profitability.

Different from this perception, Lyon (2001) defined surveillance as a “focused, systematic, and routine attention to personal details for purposes of influence, management, protection, and or direction” (p.14). In this sense, surveillance may be seen as a tool for maintaining social order.

Rather than seeing it as a single tool for enhancing social order, Haggerty and Ericson (2000) argue that surveillance is a collection of several entities, which they termed as surveillance assemblage. According Haggerty and Ericson (2000), the surveillance assemblage is not a stable entity with its own fixed boundaries.

This paper evaluates the meaning of this statement coupled with providing an explanation for the intensification of surveillance since September 11, 2001, attacks in relation to Haggerty’s idea of surveillance assemblage.

Surveillance Assemblage

The notion of surveillance assemblage fundamentally rests on the perspective that the state security cannot be enhanced through a single entity. This argument infers that the analysis of surveillance should pay attention to various capabilities of myriads of discrete entities, which include social practices coupled with technologies and other apparatus for maintaining social order.

Some scholars object viewing surveillance this way by arguing, “Proliferation of such phenomena cumulatively poses a threat to civil liberties” (Haggerty & Ericson 2000, p.610).

Following various encounters of incidents of national-wide threats such as acts of terrorism, many nations now embrace the necessity of ensuring that surveillance strategies are driven by desires to have various security apparatus integrated and harmonised in their operation to “combine practices and technologies and integrate them into larger whole” (Kegley 2003, p.45).

Haggerty and Ericson (2000) use the terms surveillance assemblage to describe these different entities, which they argue that they cannot operate in isolation for their effectiveness.

With regard to Haggerty and Ericson (2000), it is the relevant for surveillance assemblages to function together in the need to be effective. Indeed, Patton (1994) claims, “assemblages consist of multiplicity of heterogeneous objects whose unity comes solely from the fact that these items function together as a functional entity” (p.154).

In this extent, surveillance assemblages are made up of several district flows, which are essentially made up of knowledge, people, institutions, and signs (Haggerty & Ericson 2000, p.608).

The implication of this argument is that surveillance entities are made of sub-entities, which are then divided into further smaller entities, which while combined contribute into a well-informed entity that is well placed to respond to various situations by virtue of rigidity in knowledge bases and effectiveness in surveillance.

The manner in which the various entities come together to form a surveillance assemblage to enhance operation of the entities is dependent on the capacity of individual entities to operate effectively. This argument can be exemplified by the constant effort by FBI to integrate security surveillance systems.

Such systems include the ballistics, DNA, and fingerprint identification systems. The fact that these systems run on different platforms highlights Haggerty and Ericson’s (2000) argument that security assemblages are different integrated entities.

In this extent, a surveillance assemblage cannot have fixed boundaries in the sense that, for its full and effective operation, it has to borrow information and intelligence from entities, which could be located away from its presumed boundaries.

Consequently, when a different entity, which can add into the effectiveness of exiting surveillance assemblage, is found, flexibility is required to expand the boundary of the existing entities to integrate this new entity.

To get a better understanding on Haggerty and Ericson’s (2000) argument about the capacity and dependency of surveillance assemblage to operate not only within fixed borders, it is important to consider a case of the operation of computers connected systems for enhancing surveillance.

Although it is not predominantly applied in the national security surveillance systems but also in other areas of surveillance such as monitoring the movements of animals as discussed by Haggerty and Ericson (2000), microchip surveillance technology is highly dependent on the interconnectivity of systems, which extend beyond their localised borders.

Quoting Warwick, Haggerty, and Ericson (2000), microchip technology may be deployed to monitor employees, money transfers, passport details, and medical records, among other personalised information for people in which the device is implanted (p.612).

For ardent surveillance, such technology depends on discrete observation coupled with the interventions of information systems and machines to enhance efficient surveillance.

Again, this shows that surveillance assemblage is not a stable entity with its own fixed boundaries. Rather, it has the capacity to expand to incorporate new technological facets to enhance success in surveillance.

Haggerty and Ericson’s (2000) argument that surveillance assemblage is not a stable entity with its own fixed boundaries may also be interpreted to mean that surveillance assemblage extends beyond more than one social hegemony.

For instance, they argue, “instead of being subject to disciplinary surveillance or simple repression, the population is increasingly constituting consumers who are seduced into the market economy” (Haggerty & Ericson 2000, p.614).

In this sense, surveillance assemblage serves as a tool for monitoring consumption patterns of people coupled with production patterns as an ample measure for profiling personal behaviours, actions, and habits in the effort to generate social information intelligence.

Since these aspects keep on changing from time to time, it is sufficient to presume that surveillance systems must have flexible boundaries and the capacity to develop and accommodate new entities. Hence, the assembled entities are not stable but prone to dynamics to help in tracking new changes.

A similar perception is also evident upon considering surveillance from the context of institutionalisation of the attempts to investigate the distribution and production of knowledge bases of people in the effort to manage people’s behaviour.

In this end, Haggerty and Ericson (2000) reckon, “surveillance plays an important role in this process as it allows managers to establish and monitor production norms previously unheard of levels” (p.615).

Therefore, surveillance assemblage needs to have flexible boundaries to accommodate emerging trends. This argument further ascertains that surveillance assemblage is not a stable entity with its own fixed boundaries.

Intensification of Surveillance since 9/11

Surveillance assemblage is not a stable entity with its own fixed boundaries. The main question is how one can explain the intensification of surveillance since 9/11 in relation to this idea.

Considering the aftermath of the 9/11 with the discussion of the incapacity of surveillance assemblage to operate within inflexible boundaries opens the discussion of the necessity of incorporating the “issues that are often left out of intellectual discussion of security or surveillance” (Zimmer 2008, p.206).

Some of these issues include expansion of the boundaries of the US surveillance systems to scrutinise people on an individual level to ensure that the US remains terrorism-insecurity aware. Indeed, the experience of September 11, 2001 attacks in the US had dramatic impacts on the approaches of police on issues of privacy and surveillance.

In this context, Bloss (2007) maintains that the US has encountered an incredible progressive advancement in the balancing of personal rights and authority of police surveillance approaches. In fact, according to Posner (2003), the September 11, 2001 incident had the effect of broadening search authority coupled with the surveillance boundaries of the police force.

In the US, surveillance cannot be regarded as a single entity with fixed boundaries because a number of stakeholders enhance security. They must operate harmoniously to ensure that the US remains secure both internally and across its boundaries.

Depending on the perceptions of the security risks that the US may be susceptible to often calls for expansion of boarders on the existing security surveillance systems to incorporate new entities, which would help to make surveillance more effective.

The significance of flexibility of surveillance assemblage following the September 11, 2001 is made clear when Bloss (2007) reckons, “faced with modern transnational crime and terrorism operating in technologically fluid global environment, the extant official strategy obligates the police to ensure greater public safety under increasingly unpredictable circumstances” (p.209).

Enhancement of greater security through surveillance calls for incorporation of new strategies and agencies, which may provide ample information on security threats.

The expansion of the surveillances assemblage boundaries in the US following the September 11, 2001 attacks is evidenced by strategic focusing of the US courts coupled with lawmakers to ensure that civil protection rights are modified in the effort to make sure that crime threats coupled with acts of terrorism are curbed.

This goal is realised through the aegis of “preventative law enforcement” (Bloss 2007, p.209), which accords police an immense surveillance power.

Consistent with Haggerty and Ericson’s (2000) argument that surveillance assemblage is not a stable entity with its own fixed boundaries, police surveillance has expanded to incorporate other surveillance entities, which broaden the surveillance approaches coupled with operational approaches.

The main aim is to ensure that information gathering becomes intelligence-based. Consequently, a new paradigm of surveillance approaches has emerged involving “police surveillance authority and civil privacy protection shifts” (Bloss 2007, p.209). This is perhaps vital by considering that the counterterrorism strategies adopted by the US have been evolving.

Prior to September 11, 2001 attacks, terrorism attacks, which posed treats to the security of the Americans were predominantly from the Islamists. These threats had little political implications. In fact, they often resulted to low death tolls (Adams, Nordhaus & Shellenberger 2011, p.10).

Furthermore, the recorded threats only occurred within battlefields in which America was engaged in direct confrontation with perceived global security threats. In the events of September 11, 2001, it was imperative that the US needed to expand its risks surveillance system.

Among the many measures included to enhance terrorism surveillance, counterterrorism acts strategies were critical. They included denial of a safe operation environment to parties perceived to be terrorists, curtailing impacts of possible people likely to expose America to terrorism threats, and a reduction of accessibility to mass destruction weapons to organised groups.

Other strategies included, “establishing multiple layers of port and border security, undermining terrorists’ recruiting messages, and bolstering perceptions of state legitimacy to encourage the cooperation of bystander communities” (Adams, Nordhaus & Shellenberger 2011, p.4).

Successful operation of these strategies requires integration of various entities into the one surveillance assemblage.

This argument reiterates the significance of Haggerty and Ericson’s (2000) argument that surveillance assemblage is not a stable entity with its own fixed boundaries in the intensification of surveillance in the US following the September 11, 2001 incidents.

Failure of any entity incorporated in the whole entity for enhancing the surveillance culminates into failure of the whole surveillance system.


Surveillance is a facet of every component of social affair, including security, epidemics, and recording of marriages, births, deaths, and even medical histories among others. Successful operation of all these aspects in which surveillance is incredible, several entities are brought together to form a surveillance assemblage.

The evaluation of surveillance assemblage and the strategies for accomplishing surveillance have attracted an immense scholarly interest. One of such scholarly works is “surveillance assemblage” advanced by Haggerty and Ericson. The scholars maintained that surveillance assemblage is not a stable entity with its own fixed boundaries.

The paper focused on the evaluation of this statement coupled with using it as the basis of explaining the intensive surveillance following the septemeber11, 2011 attacks.

In this end, the paper maintained that enhancing security surveillance requires integration of various separate entities since no single entity can operate by its own to ensure surveillance. The term surveillance assemblage was deployed to describe this collection of surveillance entities.


Adams, N., Nordhaus, T., & Shellenberger, M 2011, Counterterrorism since 9/11: Evaluating the Efficacy of Controversial Tactics, Breakthrough Institute, US.

Bloss, W. 2007, ‘Escalating US Police Surveillance After 9/11: An Examination of Causes and Effects’, Surveillance and Society, vol. 4 no. 3, pp. 208-228.

Haggerty, K. & Ericson, R. 2000, ‘The surveillance assemblage’, British Journal Of Sociology, vol. 51 no. 4, pp. 605-622.

Kegley, J. 2003, The New Global Terrorism: Characteristics, Causes and Controls, Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.

Lyon, D. 2001, Surveillance Society: Monitoring Everyday Life, Open University Press, Buckingham.

Patton, P. 1994, ‘Metamorpho Logic: Bodies and Powers in a Thousand Plateaus’, Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, vol. 25 no. 2, pp. 157–69.

Posner, G. 2003, Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11, Random House, New York.

Zimmer, M. 2008, ‘Surveillance and Theory’, Surveillance and Society, vol. 5 no. 2, pp. 203-208.

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