Who is watching you, and why? A social identity analysis of surveillance
O'Donnell, Aisling Therese
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
I wish my thesis to remain under embargo for the standard 18 months to enable me to submit material from it for publication.
The underlying theme that draws together all the chapters presented in this thesis is that surveillance, like any feature of our social world, is not imposed in a vacuum; and that information pertaining to the origin and purpose of surveillance is vital in determining how it will be perceived and evaluated (and how it will then impact on behaviour). The key aims of this thesis are, first, to demonstrate how a social identity approach can account for varying reactions to surveillance originating from different sources; second, to investigate how various contextual features exert their impact, resulting in the disparate perceptions of surveillance that exist in our society; and finally, to demonstrate how the imposition of surveillance can itself impact on the broader social context, including the relationship that is understood to exist between those watching and those being watched. These aims are broken down into ten research questions that are addressed in seven chapters. Chapter 1 reviews the literature on perceptions of surveillance and that on social identity, and attempts to illustrate how they may be theoretically combined, resulting in the advancement of both fields. In Chapter 2, we present two studies which demonstrate a negative relationship between shared identity and the perception of surveillance as an invasion of privacy. This relationship was mediated by perceptions that the purpose of surveillance was to ensure safety. In Chapter 3, two studies demonstrate how level of surveillance moderates followers’ responses to leaders with whom they either share identity, or not. Imposing high surveillance where identity was shared with a leader undermined perceptions of the leader as a team member and affected willingness to work for the group, reducing levels to that of leaders without a shared identity. Chapter 4 presents a study that aimed to investigate the role of social identity and surveillance in affecting both discretionary behaviour and task performance. High surveillance led to higher productivity on a task, but this was associated with lower quality of work. Additionally, when identity was shared with the person in charge, helping this person was detrimentally affected by high, as opposed to low, surveillance; whereas no such differences were found where identity was not shared. Chapter 5 presents two studies which showed that framing surveillance as targeting the in-group led to outcomes such as increased privacy invasion, lower acceptability of surveillance, and reduced levels of trust in the implementers of surveillance, as compared to when surveillance was framed as targeting an out-group. However, a third study failed to replicate these results. In Chapter 6, we address how level of threat in the environment can affect evaluations of surveillance. Two studies showed that high levels of threat led to surveillance being seen as less privacy-invading, more necessary, and as having a safety purpose. Finally, in Chapter 7, we review and integrate our findings, discuss the limitations of the research, and consider the implications it has, both theoretically and practically. We conclude that, overall, the findings presented in this thesis support the notion that the source of surveillance and the perceived purpose for it are integral to the perception and interpretation of the surveillance.
Economic and Social Research Council
O'Donnell, A. T., Jetten, J., & Ryan, M. K. (2010). Who is watching over you? The role of shared identity in perceptions of surveillance. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 135-147.
O'Donnell, A. T., Jetten, J., & Ryan, M. K. (in press). Watching over your own: How surveillance moderates the impact of shared identity on perceptions of leaders and follower behaviour. European Journal of Social Psychology
Ryan, Michelle K.
PhD in Psychology