Title: The Politics of Transparency and the Visual Rhetoric of Counter-Surveillance on PhotographyisNotaCrime.com
Abstract: Human communication is currently embedded in contexts of oceanic proportions of data, state-sponsored surveillance, dataveillance, and citizen-spy information warfare. Thus, “big brother” and “big data” should be primary concerns that shape contemporary theories of (digital) rhetoric. Some scholars have addressed the theoretical implications of these complex, interrelated issues (Doyle; Losh; Pedersen). However, the field needs to more closely examine how ubiquitous surveillance and data deluge affect narratives of change. This paper argues that the drama of progress is asserted in appeals to transparency, which are embedded in power struggles between sight/blindness, secrecy/disclosure, corruption/truth as dis/abilities. The presenter will demonstrate her claims through a rhetorical criticism of the radical blog PhotographyisNotaCrime.com (PINAC). On PINAC, the issue of transparency is a problem caused by corrupt public servants censoring citizen communication about their first-hand experiences with abuses of power. Lack of transparency generates PINAC’s content, which curates the repercussions of ‘everyday folks’ using surveillance to reveal the need for legal protections for the ‘right to (counter)-surveillance.’ Indeed, more and more denizens are capturing first-hand accounts of these issues, and a rich archive of ‘public opinion’ about race and representation is rapidly growing. However, the steady stream of daily reports of police brutality against unarmed black persons and/or mentally ill persons suggests that revealing corruption doesn’t necessarily cause radical institutional reforms. Nevertheless, sites like PINAC offer a novel approach to the creation of publics for change because it conceptually links ‘the public’ and ‘transparency’ as distinctive scenes and purposes of (digital) rhetoric. The presenter will conclude the talk by reiterating that rhetorical appeals to transparency both obscure and reveal the ways in which people communicate about possibilities for change.