“I am conducting surveillance even as I research it”: Interview with Bryce Newell

by Catherine Whittaker and Alena Zelenskaia

Lecture by Bryce Newell „Radical Visibility. The Information Politics of Police on Camera“ via Zoom at the Collaborative Research Centre 1369 “Cultures of Vigilance”, LMU Munich, 17.06.2020.

In June 2020, the “Cultures of Vigilance”-Team was honored to welcome Dr. Bryce Newell as a guest lecturer at the Collaborative Research Centre 1369. At a time when Black Lives Matter protests were making waves worldwide, his insights on racism, police, surveillance and sousveillance (counter-surveillance from below) could not have been more timely.

Assistant Professor Bryce Newell teaches at the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon (USA). Beyond researching issues of privacy and surveillance, technologies, information law, and policy, Newell is also a documentary filmmaker, who successfully exhibited his work at museums and campuses in the United States, Germany and the Netherlands. In his workshop, “Radical Visibility: The information Politics of Police on Camera,” we were happy to see some parts of the feature-length documentary “The Tinaja Trail” and learn about US-Mexican border control techniques, migrant deaths and responses to them. Postdoctoral researcher Catherine Whittaker and PhD Student Alena Zelenskaia, who both study migration and control over it from an anthropological perspective, went deeper into the topic and interviewed Newell on his academic career path and ethnographic field.

Poster of Bryce Newell’s film „The Tinaja Trail“ (2014). A trailer can be found here.

CW/AZ: What motivated you to study police surveillance, privacy and migrant experiences? How did your scientific interest in these and adjacent topics develop?

BN: My motivation to study migrant experiences and border enforcement began in early 2010, when I became aware of how many people were dying along the US-Mexico border while trying to cross clandestinely into the United States. This was a shocking revelation to me. Because of my background in documentary and video production, I wanted to produce something that would have the capacity to inform others. So, I started to produce a film on this topic, travelling to the border multiple times over the next few years. In 2014, as the film was being finished, I decided to continue working along the border with the migrants and migrant-aid communities I had gotten to know – this time by conducting qualitative social research that would help build my research agenda as a budding academic researcher. Those efforts initiated my ongoing collaboration with Ricardo Gomez and others (including Sara Vannini, Veronica Guajardo).

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