How have the technologies of surveillance reinforced and codified antiblackness? How do black bodies get observed, policed, and controlled in the surveillance state?
In Dark Matters Simone Browne locates the conditions of blackness as a key site through which surveillance is practiced, narrated, and resisted. She shows how contemporary surveillance technologies and practices are informed by the long history of racial formation and by the methods of policing black life under slavery, such as branding, runaway slave notices, and lantern laws. Placing surveillance studies into conversation with the archive of transatlantic slavery and its afterlife, Browne draws from black feminist theory, sociology, and cultural studies to analyze texts as diverse as the methods of surveilling blackness she discusses: from the design of the eighteenth-century slave ship Brooks, Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon, and The Book of Negroes, to contemporary art, literature, biometrics, and post-9/11 airport security practices. Surveillance, Browne asserts, is both a discursive and material practice that reifies boundaries, borders, and bodies around racial lines, so much so that the surveillance of blackness has long been, and continues to be, a social and political norm.
Simone Browne is Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
"Simone Browne paints a devastating portrait of the compounding work of racial surveillance—a process in which profiling serves as both the justification for information gathering and a defense of the heightened, disproportionate scrutiny this information is said to warrant. From the branding of flesh as stigmata of captivity to biometric markers as gatekeepers, Dark Matterstransports us across space and time, illuminating how the sorting, counting, and surveilling of human beings was as central to the dawn of industrialization as it is to the information society. Browne’s incisive, wide-ranging, and multidisciplinary meditation shows us the scale and persistence of surveillance culture, and especially its urgent stakes for communities of color. Her deft history of the present moment reveals how data becomes us." — Alondra Nelson, author of Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination