In the early 2000s, human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) began to avail themselves of newly commercialized satellite imagery in their advocacy efforts. In human rights contexts, satellite imaging vastly extends capacities to detect and respond to abuses of human rights across the globe, especially in spaces that are seemingly inaccessible to rights advocates. In this essay, I explore human rights satellite imaging as an extension of a surveillance gaze that emerged and developed in the context of a politics of securitization. In so doing, I suggest that satellite imaging not only has been used by human rights advocates to pursue their ends but has also transformed those ends, separating intention from effect, policy from practice, and advocacy’s present from its past. In this process, surveillance states and human rights NGOs have come to collaborate on the production of geopolitical knowledge and the accumulation of geopolitical power through the deployment of satellite imagery.
Surveillant Witnessing: Satellite Imagery and the Visual Politics of Human Rights
Andrew Herscher is an associate professor at the University of Michigan, teaching in the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, and Department of Art History. He is the author of Violence Taking Place: The Architecture of the Kosovo Conflict (2010) and The Unreal Estate Guide to Detroit (2012).
Andrew Herscher; Surveillant Witnessing: Satellite Imagery and the Visual Politics of Human Rights. Public Culture 1 September 2014; 26 (3 (74)): 469–500. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/08992363-2683639
Download citation file: