"We the Big Brother" Or The Curious Incident of the Camera in the Kitchen

Edna Ullmann-Margalit

Last summer, a member of the Rationality Center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem installed a closed-circuit TV camera in the Center's kitchen. An email explained that the camera was installed in an effort to keep the kitchen clean. By the time the camera was removed, a week later, the members of the Center exchanged close to 120 emails among themselves, expressing their opinions for and against the camera and discussing related issues.Taking off from this exchange, I explore the surprisingly rich set of normative concerns touched upon by the kitchen-camera incident. These include a host of issues regarding people's polarized attitudes toward public surveillance, the problem of the invasive gaze and the argument that "if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry," the efficacy of disciplining behavior through sanctions along with the problems related to shaming sanctions, the notion of privacy and its arguable relevance to the kitchen case, and more. Special attention is given to the notion ofcleanness and to its related norms.In an epilogue, I offer some reflections in the wake of the incident. I find that it is precisely the smallness, concreteness and seeming triviality of this incident that helps bring a large set of interconnected, vexing normative concerns into sharper relief.

April, 2008
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Published as "The Case of the Camera in the Kitchen: Surveillance, Privacy, Sanctions and Governance", Regulation & Governance 2 (2008), 425-444