Imagine Otherwise: Simone Browne on the History of Anti-Black Surveillance

Imagine Otherwise: Simone Browne on the History of Anti-Black Surveillance

May 4, 2016

Pixelated photo of Simone Browne


How is the history of slavery tied to modern-day surveillance systems? Is surveillance always a negative term? How can a gendered lens change the way we perceive privacy rights and policies?

In episode 9 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach chats with feminist scholar Simone Browne about how Black communities have resisted and interfered with the surveillance practices that target them, the multiple lenses through which to consider privacy, and the joys of collaborating with academics, artists, and activists.

Guest: Simone Browne

Simone Browne is an associate professor in the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

She teaches and researches surveillance studies, digital media and black diaspora studies.

Her first book, Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness (Duke University Press, 2015) examines surveillance with a focus on transatlantic slavery, biometric technologies, branding, airports and creative texts.

Simone is an Executive Board member of HASTAC. She is also a part of Deep Lab, a feminist arts and research collective.

We chatted about

  • How the genealogy of slavery is closely linked with the genealogy of surveillance (1:52)
  • The influence of of surveillance theories on canonical authors like Michel Foucault and Frantz Fanon (05:58)
  • Why adopting a broader definition of surveillance is essential to understanding its impact on our daily lives (13:20)
  • How a gendered lens can help us understand surveillance and privacy (16:43)
  • The work that HASTAC does to connect and support academics (23:25)
  • Imagining otherwise (25:45)

Pixelated photo of Simone Browne. Text reads: I wanted to put surveillance studies into conversation with Black diaspora studies. I wanted to trace a different genealogy, to think about the historical and social formation of surveillance as not being outside of the social and historical formation of slavery.


The inspiration for Simone’s book Dark Matters

I wanted to trace a different genealogy and start with transatlantic slavery, and to think about the historical and social formation of surveillance as not being outside of that of the social and historical formation of slavery.

The trend of forgetting Black history in relation to surveillance

There is a forgetting for some of COINTELPRO, or federalized anti-blackness in terms of fugitive slave laws. That’s what I wanted to insert back into the conversation.

The gendering of privacy

Privacy gets seen as something that has to with only the Fourth Amendment or drones. When we think about whose bodies have always been publicly available for discussion or scrutiny, and we put a gendered lens on understanding surveillance, then we have different kinds of questions to ask and demands to make.

Imagining otherwise

I want a reduction of sadness, of debt racketeering—a world without prisons, without racism and sexism and antiblackness.

More from Simone

Projects and people discussed

About Imagine Otherwise

Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at Imagine Otherwise is hosted by Cathy Hannabach and produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.

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