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Keywords:

  • surveillance;
  • privacy;
  • shaming sanctions;
  • deterrence;
  • social norms

Abstract

In the summer of 2007, a member of the Rationality Center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem took it upon himself to install a closed-circuit TV camera in the Center’s kitchen. An email explained that the camera was installed in an effort to solve the problem of cleanness in the kitchen. The camera was removed a week later: within this week, the members of the Center exchanged close to 120 emails among themselves, expressing their opinions for and against the camera, and discussing related issues. Taking off from this exchange, this article explores some of the surprisingly rich set of normative concerns touched upon by the kitchen camera incident. Among them: public surveillance and people’s polarised attitudes to it, the invasive gaze and the argument that “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry about,” the efficacy of disciplining behavior through sanctions along with the problem of shaming sanctions, the notion of privacy and its arguable relevance to the kitchen case, and more. In an epilogue, I offer some reflections in the wake of the incident, connecting it to the incipient literature on regulation through observation. I find that it is precisely the smallness, concreteness, and seeming triviality of this incident that helps bring a large set of interconnected, vexing normative concerns into sharp relief.