Commodification of the Body

The unremitting surveillance and concealed tracking of the human body have intensified over the 21st century. The emergence of smartphone technologies, online rewards programs, fitness apps, and facial recognition software has led to the daily collection of personal data by both corporations and the government. Security measures designed and implemented into portable gadgets, such as location settings and fingerprint detection, also eliminate all notions of wandering and concealment in everyday routines. Even one’s private information, including medical details, can be easily extracted through an individual’s operation of devices. The standards of confidentiality are challenged and replaced with modern technological initiatives powered by computers.

Surveillance routines are further ingrained into modern socialization practices, as the lives of strangers are readily observable through the consumption of reality television programming. Often produced and edited in multiple entertainment formats, the television industry has nurtured dedicated viewers who are immensely intrigued with the lived realities of others. This format of surveillance works to further objectify the human body as a site of digital absorption. Drawing on themes of privacy, exposure, and corporatization, the following entry outlines the various perspectives toward understanding the commodification of the body within the highly politicized and capitalizing developed world.

Institutional Surveillance

Institutional surveillance of the human body is a long-standing practice that has spanned centuries. The extraction of people from everyday society, for committing transgressive and violent acts, and the further isolation of these offenders reinforce power dynamics within any era. Utilized to enforce social order and deter future criminality, a prison facility is now a site of corporeal tracking and consumption both from inside and outside the structure.

The panopticon design, subject of Michel Foucault’s discussion on punishment and discipline within society, is a circular model with a central single-man watchtower. This strategic institutional layout forces prisoners to moderate their behavior toward the unceasing potential of being continuously surveyed. Heightened levels of paranoia and alarm are displayed in this setting, as the power differences between the inmates and administration are reinforced. Further identified as a governing concept, the panopticon offers an introduction to discussions on surveillance practices, the employment of solitary confinement, and inmate socialization within contemporary institutions.

The prison space has emerged as a popular subject in the realm of reality television. Documentary and entertainment series are continuously being developed and released to the public displaying the different perspectives operating within a prison facility. Narratives following the experiences of correctional officers and families are included into a larger exploration of inmate culture. The camera functions as the “panoptic” eyes for the audience into an isolated world of transgression. It is through this medium that the surveillance of bodies is multiplied, where both the correctional officers and at-home viewers are tracking the behaviors of prisoners. The additional layer of corporate profit making is also entangled in this discussion, through the repeated success of these televised representations. The sequestered body is commodified. As measures of security exponentially increase within society, so too does the public’s fascination with the disciplinary practices of the state.

Body Trackers

The health of consumers is also tracked through movable devices, with the inclusion of pedometers, heart rate monitors, and sleep recording technologies. The popularity of these features continues to increase with the expansion of fitness and nutritional initiatives within our communities. These programs utilize the bodily data inputted by consumers and sensor mechanics to outline the daily performance of individuals. This ongoing collection of medically related information is central to the success of fitness app corporations, where new technologies are developed and sold to the public. Additionally, most of these health features do not allow the user to omit confidential information through the setup process. It must be acknowledged that any data inputted into these devices are theoretically retrievable by employees of these technology companies. The potential for full bodily surveillance is unleashed.

The integration of Global Positioning Systems into multiple portable technologies also functions as a noninvasive form of microchipping for humans. Automobiles, watches, tablets, and keys are just a few objects that contain locative software. Electronic supervision programs, supported and administered through government-based initiatives, are further incorporating Global Positioning Systems technology toward the tracking of individuals released from prison on parole. Replacing radio-frequency programming, these ankle devices now offer detailed coordinates on the movements of citizens. Any violation of a set perimeter will result in signals triggering an alarm system. Though not a new concept, it is this rapid development of surveillance machineries that reinforces grander narratives of power, supervision, and confinement in our modern world.

Emma Smith

See also Crime ; Crime Control ; Cybertheft ; Privacy, Internet ; Privacy, Types of ; Surveillance, Culture of

Further Readings

Foucault, M.Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York, NY: Random House, 2005.

Mosco, V.The Political Economy of Communication. London, England: Sage, 1986.

Presdee, M.Cultural Criminology and the Carnival of Crime. London, England: Routledge, 2000.