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Do Not Pass Go: The Landscapes of Security

Who’s allowed inside a gated community? Who gets waved through a checkpoint? Who gets turned away, followed, searched, or scanned?

Security is no longer just a lock on the door. It’s about access, infrastructure, and surveillance, from homes and neighborhoods right on up to borders and the regimes that control them. All this and more is explored in Spaces of Security: Ethnographies of Securityscapes, Surveillance, and Control. The book was edited by Professor Setha Low (The Graduate Center, CUNY) and Mark Maguire.

In their introduction, the editors note a “curious dynamic.” Crime rates in the U.S. have plummeted to levels not seen in decades, yet media coverage of crime has increased, as has fear of crime, with ever more elaborate security in homes and institutions. Any discussion of “spaces of security” or “securityscapes” must address both “the powerful role of the imagination” and the physical manifestations of tracking and keeping people in or out.

The book, a collection of ethnographic case studies, takes an anthropological approach to understanding “securityscapes.” Examples range from blast-proof bedrooms in Israel, to Manhattan’s Union Square, where some 240 cameras track everyone’s every move. Around the world, privileged groups increasingly live in “fortified cells” with “heavy-handed policing” creating “distinct social experiences along the lines of race and class.”

Professor Setha Low
Professor Setha Low

Low, in addition to serving as editor, wrote a chapter called “Domesticating Security,” about gated communities and New York City’s co-operative apartment buildings, notorious for their persnickety rules. Two additional scholars from The Graduate Center, CUNY, also contributed to the book. Professor Katherine Verdery wrote a chapter about the history of state surveillance in Romania and elsewhere during the communist era, while doctoral candidate Zoltán Glück tracked antiterrorism measures in Kenya following the 2013 Al-Shabaab attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall.

Glück wrote that the Nairobi attack created a pretext for “roundups, demolitions … and human rights abuses” in a poor immigrant neighborhood, while the “elite few” increasingly “fortify themselves” with “militarized walls and fencing.” At checkpoints, “nobody actually believes that unarmed and underpaid security guards can stop a terrorist attack,” but they “perform an important function of … controlling who can be where” by turning away “anyone who looks like they ‘don’t belong.’”

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Setha Low (Professor, Psychology; Earth and Environmental Sciences; Women's and Gender Studies; Anthropology) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools

The Graduate Center