Modern Believing


Modern Believing (2014), 55, (4), 385–451.


REVIEWS E. Stoddart, Theological Perspectives on a Surveillance Society: Watching and Being Watched. Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2011. Pp. viii, 198. Hb. £50. ISBN 978-0754667971. There’s no getting around it. We live in a surveillance society. As a report for the UK information commissioner by the Surveillance Studies Network (2006) put it: ‘In all the rich countries of the world everyday life is suffused with surveillance encounters, not merely from dawn to dusk but 24/7’. Stoddart’s Theological Perspectives on a Surveillance Society is one of the few books to consider this reality theologically, and to propose a conceptual framework for ethical engagement with the massive surveillance systems that now underpin modern existence. Across the breadth of this vast topic, Stoddart develops an ethic of care that does not resist all surveillance practices in a reactionary, knee-jerk manner, but allows reflections on the creative purposes of God and the crucified Christ – who experienced surveillance – to inform an approach to surveillance ‘first and foremost for people’ (p. 171) when practiced carefully. The term ‘care’ is used judiciously by Stoddart to speak of ‘active engagement in building life-affirming relations’ (p. 55). His purpose is to interrogate the surveillance structures and systems that we inhabit for ways to build right relations that do not discriminate, degrade or defraud. Drawing upon feminist ethics of care, he develops a critical hermeneutic that does not merely denounce the presence of CCTV cameras in our high streets and airports, resist social networking accounts or necessarily refuse supermarket discounting schemes that collect data on us. Stoddart is no present-day Luddite wanting to destroy systems of surveillance that threaten privacy but, rather, a critically constructive realist seeking to develop an ethic of care robust enough to guide the ‘practice of surveillance compassionately’ (p. 2). Central themes include the inadequacy of an ethic of privacy for Modern Believing 55.4 2014 doi:10.3828/mb.2014.46

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