Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Dennis Allen.


This dissertation examines an aporia in Michel Foucault's analysis of ideological panopticism. Foucault would likely suggest that the contemporary widespread use and acceptance of second-generation surveillance technologies exemplifies the discursive circulation of panoptic ideology. To the contrary, there is a great deal of evidence that suggests that such technology can be used for, to borrow Steve Mann's phrase, sousveillance (or, literally, "to watch from below"). By drawing from Niklas Luhmann's and Gregory Bateson's examinations of the inherent "blind spots" of observation systems (both literal and metaphorical), this dissertation suggests that sousveillance posits a challenge to the theoretically "neat" (according to Foucault) ideological function of surveillance. Moreover, this dissertation draws from Chilean biologists and systems theorists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela's concept of autopoiesis, or self-creation, in order to examine how the second-generation surveillance camera facilitates opportunities to discursively express and forge identities that are not so neatly explained by the limited possibilities of ideological interpellation.;This project approaches these issues by examining a triangulated, discursive relationship between surveillance, narrative, and subjectivity as it manifests in contemporary American culture, and it locates examples of this triangulated relationship in both the form and content of various postmodern, cultural products such as Don DeLillo's novel Cosmopolis, Anna Deavere Smith's stage play Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, Hasan Elahi's digital art installation Tracking Transience, and David Simon's HBO series The Wire. The Failure of the Surveillance State ultimately posits that panoptic power does not function as neatly as Foucault proposed and that the failures and blind spots of contemporary surveillance systems provide significant possibilities for reconsidering and reconstructing theoretical models of subjectivity, agency, and narrative. It concludes by asserting that these failures have become embedded in emerging narrative frameworks that have moved away from the authority of a singular narrator to a practice that mirrors an infinite regress of secondary observers in multiple points-of-view narrative frameworks (as in the case of Jennifer Egan's novel A Visit from the Goon Squad).