Giddens, A. (1995). Surveillance and the capitalist state. In A contemporary critique of historical materialism, 2nd Edn. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Macmillan.
Giddens defines surveillance as two connected processes of accumulation of information and of the supervision of the activities of subordinates in a collective. He believes that information gathering is a prime generator of power.
Human beings are knowledgable agents acting within “unacknowledged conditions” and “unintended consequences” of their actions (p. 171).
Whilst he recognises that Foucault connected the abolition of the violence of the spectacle with the rise of capitalism, he maintains that Foucault’s connection between the factory and the prison were too close to be sustained. Rather, he notes that workplaces are not, as with prisons, “total institutions” (a phrase he credits to the work of Goffman) in which resistance may develop. As a result Foucault’s “docile bodies” become not so docile after all and become knowledgeable agents. (p. 173)
He notes that the freedom of labour in capitalist systems are really just a sham and create the exploitation of workers through more subtle means, but he points out that the rise of “mere bourgeois freedoms” have lead to the development of genuine gains in judicial reforms allowing and encouraging the formation of organised labour movements which have challenged the hegemony of capitalism.
Giddens maintains that Foucault’s ideas about the sequestration of prisoners become more a comment about the parts of capitalist society that commodify, regulate, and smooth time, removing from our day-to-day lives those aspects which are directly connected to the ebb and flow of nature. (p. 173)
Despite his criticism of Foucault, Giddens recognises the importance of surveillance to studies of capitalism. He observes that “classical social theory” – and by that I assume he refers to Marxism – did not recognise the threat to personal liberties from systems of surveillance. (p. 174)
Finally he points to what he sees as the oppressive potential for a combining of a Taylorist supervision of workers with an information collection mechanisms that result in anonymous “technical control” (p. 176).