The Family Album: Emerging participatory surveillance practices of photo sharing

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This article systematically analyzes emerging practices of sorting, sharing and storing photos in everyday family life. I report from a study of how Danish families and school children implement and negotiate the use of digital technologies. The purpose is to investigate why digital technologies are used and how they potentially change the relation between parents and children. The more general ambition of our study is to significantly improve our understanding of the motives and consequences of the deep infiltration of technology into contemporary family life in a networked world. Our study draws on empirical data from in-depth interviews with 15 Danish families and 50 school children aged 13-16 during six months in 2017. Both parents and children use their digital devices, particularly smartphones, as cameras to document their lives and to share photos with others. However, the interviews show that parents do not generally plan to store or organize their photos, and even less their children’s photos. This seems to indicate a shift from a pre-digital perception of photos as objects to be packaged, accumulated, framed etc. which can age and disappear (see Sontag, 1977) to something perceived less as images to archive and preserve and more as social artefacts serving more immediate communicative purposes (Lobinger, 2016). The use of digital technologies in families also implicate negotiations about the boundaries of trust and intimacy in parent-child relations which can lead to strategies of resistance or modification (Fotel and Thomsen, 2004; Steeves and Jones, 2010). I have earlier introduced the concept “participatory surveillance” as a way to grasp social practices in the digital realm (Albrechtslund, 2008). The tensions and negotiations brought about by the use of digital technologies in family relations can be seen as a result of the dynamics of a participatory surveillance culture shaped by digital media.

Albrechtslund, A. (2008). Online Social Networking as Participatory Surveillance. First Monday, 13(3).
Fotel, T., & Thomsen, T. U. (2002). The Surveillance of Children’s Mobility. Surveillance & Society, 1(4), 535-554.
Lobinger, K. (2016). Photographs as things–photographs of things. A texto-material perspective on photo-sharing practices. Information, Communication & Society, 19(4), 475–488.
Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography. Picador.
Steeves, V., & Jones, O. (2010). Editorial: Surveillance, Children and Childhood. Surveillance & Society, 7(3/4), 187–191.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2018
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventCultures of Participation: Arts, Digital Media and Politics - Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark
Duration: 18 Apr 201820 Apr 2018


ConferenceCultures of Participation
LocationAarhus University
Internet address


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