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Dossierveillance is a type of surveillance wherein the file (or a series of files), paper-based or virtual, lie at the center of what makes a person afraid or reluctant to act in a certain manner, or to disclose information that, once placed in the file, has the potentiality to be interpreted in a way deemed or perceived as harmful for the respective person. The dossier in dossierveillance holds power on a person either through its existence or the possibility of its existence and thus being potentially employed in the future in a way that would harm the respective person. The dossier is therefore the cause of one’s self-surveillance or self-censorship. The person subjected to dossierveillance learns, as a result, to be careful/secretive/reluctant to offer details in respect the information divulged to a specific authority compiling the dossier or to act in ways that, if taken note of, may not harm the respective person in the future. The peril of dossierveillance, comes neither from the dossier or the writer’s dossier, on their own, but by from the possibility of its falling into the hands of those who may treat the information in the dossier in a way that may or will hurt the respective person. Dossierveillance is thus often but not always an imaginary affair, based on the possibility rather than the actual harm the dossier in dossierveillance can cause. And yet, this possibility, projected into the future, can instigate great fear and anxiety into the one about whom the dossier is about.

We live in “surveillance societies” (Lyon 1994; Norris & Armstrong 1999). Surveillance and data collection have become part of the mundane and quotidian of most people’s lives nowadays. This project seeks to explore the effects of dossierveillance on those subjected to it and those who carry it out. How has dossierveillance, a concept first discussed in the context of surveillance practices employed by secret police in communist Romania, shapes today’s world in both capitalist, authoritarian systems, and beyond?

Latest publications on dossierveillance
"The Securitate document as a record of psuchegraphy"

Dossierveillance in Communist Romania: Collaboration with the Securitate, 1945-1989

To note: the word was first coined in an article that discusses surveillance practices undertaken by the Securitate, Romania’s secret police in the communist period:

Dossierveillance is a type of surveillance, morphologically and semantically similar to the concept “dossier society” coined by Kenneth Landau’s in 1986. The “dossier” in dossierveillance, like the one in the “dossier society,” represents “thousands of officially selected moments in your past to confront you with the threads of an intricate web, revealing your “official life,” the one you must line with and explain to whatever authority chooses to demand an explanation” (Landau 1986, p. 4). Unlike its seemingly more benign counterpart in the “dossier society,” the file in dossierveillance accumulates information on a given person with deliberate intent to cause harm, incriminate, and even punish (Plamadeala 2019).

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