2018 Fall Conference

Seeing Like a Capitalist image: a large camera looks down at a human figure

2018 Fall Conference

Seeing Like a Capitalist: Histories of Commercial Surveillance in America
Thursday, November 8, 2018 to Friday, November 9, 2018

Hagley Library, 298 Buck Road, Wilmington, DE

The 2018 fall conference will explore the history of commercial surveillance in the United States, from settlement to the present. These non-state surveillance activities might be found in a variety of business settings and industries, involve a range of formal or informal practices, and might be directed at customers, media audiences, borrowers, consumer markets, employees, or labor. The long history of commercial surveillance serves to illuminate the precursors, continuities, and logic of today's "surveillance capitalism."

Sarah E. Igo (Vanderbilt University) will open the conference with a keynote address in Hagley's Soda House on the evening of Thursday, November 8. She will discuss her new book, The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America, published by Harvard University Press in May 2018.

Conference panels will take place throughout the day on Friday, November 9 in the Soda House. For more information, see the schedule below. A printable PDF schedule is also available.

"Seeing Like a Capitalist" is sponsored by the Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society. The conference was initiated by Josh Lauer (University of New Hampshire), and he is joined on the program committee by Roger Horowitz (Hagley Museum and Library), Ken Lipartito (Florida International University), and Amrys O. Williams (Hagley Museum and Library).

Conference Details

Call for Proposals

Call for Proposals
Due May 1, 2018

The history of surveillance is often associated with the history of the state. However, commercial organizations in the United States—from insurance companies to audience rating firms and database marketers, to corporate personnel and auditing departments—also exercise power over citizens through systems of identification, classification, and monitoring.  The history of commercial surveillance thus intersects with key issues concerning the history of privacy, information, social sorting and discrimination, and technologies of discipline and control.

For a conference sponsored by the Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society on November 8–9, 2018, we invite proposals that explore the history of commercial surveillance in the United States, from settlement to the present. These (non-state) surveillance activities might be found in a variety of business settings and industries, involve a range of formal or informal practices, and might be directed at customers, media audiences, borrowers, consumer markets, employees, or labor. The long history of commercial surveillance serves to illuminate the precursors, continuities, and logic of today's "surveillance capitalism."

We are interested in original, empirically grounded, unpublished essays that consider one or more of the following questions:

  • How have commercial surveillance systems contributed to the production of knowledge about individuals or populations? To what extent have private-sector classification systems shaped categories of identity and social status in the United States?
  • In what ways have commercial surveillance systems contributed to understandings of gender and race in the United States? How have these understandings been formalized or institutionalized?
  • How does the development of commercial surveillance fit into broader social, political, or economic efforts to discipline behavior or control risk?
  • To what extent have commercial surveillance systems overlapped—or collaborated—with state surveillance systems, such as law enforcement, social services, or statistical data gathering?
  • What legal issues have attended the history of commercial surveillance? How have commercial surveillance practices been regulated, particularly with regard to discrimination and privacy?
  • To what extent have distinctions between work and leisure been blurred by commercial surveillance? 
  • How does the history of commercial surveillance help contextualize the development of big data and predictive analytics in our own time? What underlying structures, norms, or business objectives can be discerned?
  • What technologies have been developed, and for what specific purposes, to facilitate commercial surveillance?

Please submit proposals of no more than 500 words and a one-page C.V. to Carol Lockman at clockman@hagley.org by May 1, 2018. We welcome submissions from historians as well as ethnographically oriented social scientists.  Presenters will receive lodging in the conference hotel and up to $500 to cover their travel costs.

Schedule

PDF Schedule

Thursday, November 8

7:00 pm – 8:15 pm: Keynote Address

Sarah E. Igo, Vanderbilt University
"Invasions of Privacy: An American History"

Friday, November 9

8:00 am – 8:30 am: Coffee

8:30 am – 10:15 am: Laboring Subjects: Work and Surveillance

Caitlin Rosenthal, University of California, Berkeley
"'Watching’: Enslaved Surveillance on American and West Indian Plantations"

Daniel Robert, University of California, Berkeley
"Surveillance of Emotional Labor and the Survival of Monopoly Capitalism in the Early Twentieth Century"

Jeremy Milloy, Trent University
"High Priority: The War on Drugs and Corporate Surveillance of American Workers"

Comment: Eric Arneson, George Washington University

10:15 am – 10:45 am: Coffee

10:45 am – 12:30 pm: Hand in Hand: Public/Private Surveillance

Zachary Nowak, Harvard University
"The Railway Panopticon: State Surveillance over Corporate Space in Late Nineteenth-Century America"

Morgan Shahan, Johns Hopkins University
"Private Enterprise for Public Order: Commercial Surveillance and Parole in Illinois"

Jocelyn Wills, Brooklyn College, City University of New York
"Capitalist Expansion, Government Contractors, and the Synergies between State and Commercial Surveillance Systems"

Comment: Sarah E. Igo, Vanderbilt University

12:30 pm – 1:30 pm: Lunch

1:30 pm – 3:15 pm: Listening in and Zeroing in: Collecting and Using Information

Brian Hochman, Georgetown University
"Dirty Business: A Short History of Wiretapping in Corporate America"

Andrew Meade McGee, Carnegie Mellon University
"The Databank Dilemma: State, Industry, and Media Influences on U.S. Firm Data Aggregation Practices in the 1960s and 1970s"

Dan Guadagnolo, University of Wisconsin-Madison
"'Why Did Uptown Go Down in Flames?': Uptown Cigarettes and the Targeted Marketing Crisis"

Comment: Josh Lauer, University of New Hampshire

3:15 pm – 3:45 pm: Coffee

3:45 pm – 5:30 pm: The Business of Surveillance

Jamie Pietruska, Rutgers University
"Paperwork, Bureaucracy, and Surveillance in the Case of the Two Pinkerton Detective Agencies"

Rachel Bunker, Rutgers University
"Retail Credit Company, Racial Capitalism, and the Making of the 'Corporate-Surveillance Apparatus' in the Early Twentieth-Century United States"

Dolores E. Janiewski, Victoria University of Wellington
"Spy vs. Counterspy: The Clash between Two Surveillance Networks in California, 1932–1952"

Comment: Ken Lipartito, Florida International University

5:30 pm – 6:00 pm: Reception

Location and Directions

The Hagley Library is located at 298 Buck Road, Wilmington, DE 19807.

All sessions will take place in the Soda House, accessed through Hagley’s Buck Road entrance. Follow signs for the Soda House.  Parking is available on site.

Driving Directions

From the south: Take I-95 north to exit 5B (Newport exit) in Delaware. Follow Route 141 north for 7 miles. Turn left onto Route 100. At the light, make a right onto Buck Road. The Hagley Library entrance will be straight ahead through the gates.

From the north: Take I-95 south to exit 8B (Concord Pike/Wilmington) in Delaware. Follow signs to Route 141 South. After turning onto Route 141 south, follow Route 141 south for approximately 2.4 miles. After crossing the bridge, turn right onto Route 100. Make your next right at the light onto Buck Road. The Hagley Library entrance will be straight ahead through the gates.

From West Chester area: Take Route 52 south and continue into Delaware. In Greenville, make a left onto Buck Road and continue on Buck Road across Route 100. The Hagley Library entrance will be straight ahead through the gates.

From the New Jersey Turnpike: Take the New Jersey Turnpike South to the Delaware Memorial Bridge. After crossing the bridge, follow signs to Route 141. Follow Route 141 North for 7 miles. Turn left onto Route 100. At the light, make a right onto Buck Road. The Hagley Library entrance will be straight ahead through the gates.

From Route 202 area: Take Route 202 south to Route 141 south. Shortly after crossing the bridge, turn right onto Route 100. Make your next right at the light onto Buck Road. The Hagley Library entrance will be straight ahead through the gates.

Registration and Lodging

Registration

The conference is free but advance registration is required. Please contact Carol Lockman to register.

Lunch is available on Friday for $15 if reserved in advance through Carol Lockman.

Lodging

For those staying overnight, we recommend the Best Western Brandywine Valley Inn. There is a block of rooms available for conference attendees, and shuttle service during the conference is provided.

Call (800) 537-7772 for reservations and indicate that you are attending Hagley’s fall conference to receive the discounted rate.