Suspicion, control and desire - a criminological analysis of secretive conduct and smart devices

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Szakolczai, Janos Mark
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University College Cork
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The topic of this thesis is the connection between secrecy and the onlife reality, a blurring line between being online and offline. Specifically, it offers a novel criminological perspective on how the smart technological devices integrated in the onlife ecology (with its technologies, features, design, instant online access, and messaging) aid specific instances of 'secretive conduct', involving regular and mundane episodes of suspicion, control and desire towards our kin, partners, co-worker, and perfect strangers. While most studies on smart technology (phones, pc, homes, watches, cars) concern privacy and security, as well as the elements of isolation and social disintegration - this thesis offers an innovative contribution in the field of criminology. The elements which protect our devices, such as touch ID and face recognition have created an un-accessible wall against other users, both online and offline; the character of such elements and their effects is a central concern of this thesis, revolving around suspicion, control and desire such a condition induces. Using a cultural criminology perspective, this work will theorize the ecology of onlife reality, the secretive conduct that characterises its environment; interpreting how tools of monitoring and control appear to have taken over any 'space' - from public to private. It appears that not only is anything observable - but it is done in a covert and discreet manner - the Goffmanian front & back stage result constantly under scrutiny. In this context, the users become increasingly effected by this covert scrutiny. The smartphone functions as a quintessential tool that allows such a blur - leading into the onlife question of crime and cybercrime. Advancing an experimental 'hybrid' methodology that attempts to unite both digital and 'in-person' ethnographic considerations, the research makes use of informal and incidental 'confessions' of smart technology users, such as their personal or witnessed secretive conducts. The analysis concentrates on specific abusive episodes in which the use of onlife devices allow all sorts of secretive conducts, with direct or indirect elements of harm: these are treated as social 'vignettes', and include parents secretly monitoring their children, partners making assumptions on the other's whereabouts, perpetuating elements of stalking, blackmailing, monitoring, all in a remote and apparently 'secured' environment. This work contributes to cultural criminology with analysis of the blasé approach to such elements of secretive conduct becoming integral in the onlife habitus of smartphone users. Secrecy is becoming a central element of onlife ecology, taking place unwillingly, and mostly unknowingly. To act in secret, to monitor in secret - wanting to see, control, and observe all become central elements of the onlife.
Onlife , Digital harm , Secrecy , Cultural criminology , Capta
Szakolczai, J. M. 2022. Suspicion, control and desire - a criminological analysis of secretive conduct and smart devices. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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