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Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness

4.47  ·  Rating details ·  351 ratings  ·  31 reviews
In Dark Matters Simone Browne locates the conditions of blackness as a key site through which surveillance is practiced, narrated, and resisted. She shows how contemporary surveillance technologies and practices are informed by the long history of racial formation and by the methods of policing black life under slavery, such as branding, runaway slave notices, and lantern ...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published October 2nd 2015 by Duke University Press (first published September 7th 2015)
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Average rating 4.47  · 
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Alok Vaid-Menon
Oct 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Black-led movements against police violence have increased awareness that modern policing in the US comes from early slave patrols in the 1700s that were established to catch liberated Black people and prevent Black people from revolting against captivity. During Reconstruction, local sheriffs continued this tradition: enforcing racial segregation and the disenfranchisement of newly freed Black people. In her monumental work, Professor of African American Studies Dr. Simone Browne reveals how co ...more
Sara Salem
Jul 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Amazing book on race and surveillance that traces how Black bodies in the US have been central to surveillance for centuries. A must read! And she uses a lot of my bae, Fanon :)
Oct 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
In the conclusion of Dark Matters, Simone Browne asks the rhetorical question she has gestured toward all along: "could there be some potential in going about unknown or unremarkable, and perhaps unbothered, where CCTV, camera-enabled devices, facial recognition, and other computer vision technologies are in use?"

In Browne's interdisciplinary study on modern and historical surveillance, she draws attention to the relationship between oppressive surveillance practices in the context of chattel s
Oct 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
One of the best reads about the surveillance of black people and blackness. To hard to read it by yourself. I will definitely advise you to talk with your friends after reading it. It's heavy and hard to just read it and not think about it all the time. You can see Fanon's footprint in it and a great analysis of his book Black skin, white Mask through the book.
Highly Recommended people!
Aug 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
chock full of new information framed in ways i've never thought of before, amazing read ...more
Silas Tippens
Mar 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Phew, this took me a while to get through. You'll want to spend some time in reflection after reading a section or two.

Privacy has become a privilege given solely to the rich and "normal." Browne offers a convincing case that this is how it has always been ever since the Land of the Free was first discovered. The poor and "out-of-place" must be catalogued, watched, and tracked. From the chattel slavery of the past, to the non-whites of today. And due to 9/11, any acts challenging this surveillan
Feb 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
It’s certainly possible that I’m a moron, but I found this book far too dense and academic to be able to get much out of it. It constantly talked about what it was going to do next, a writing pet peeve of mine, and constantly made nouns into verbs or adjectives, another person peeve (like “operationalize”). And one could call it “wide-ranging” but it felt more like the author had a bunch of different topics that she wanted to explore and stuck them all in one book, and they didn’t feel all that ...more
Nov 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Not only is Browne brilliant, but also funny unexpected ways. (Comment about the lantern in the epilogue? Priceless.) 17/10 would recommend as required reading.
jasmine sun
Jan 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
anyone interested in surveillance should read this book!

simone browne traces modern american surveillance to its roots in antiblackness, and specifically the tools/technologies used to regulate and commodify slaves. and anything with roots in racism is ripe to replicate it, so there's also plenty of modern case studies to accompany her historical investigation.

she kicks off with an overview of the surveillance studies literature (who knew there was the panopticon, banopticon, and even the McOpt
Brian Kong
Feb 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
Overall: 3.7

Dark Matters genealogizes the racialized legacy of surveillance through the kaleidoscope of blackness, white gaze, and colored epidermalization. By scrutinizing fugitive slave advertisements, art instillations, personal memoirs, and court documents, Browne chronologizes how slavery engendered a regime of racialized surveillance that carnivorously mutates to strangle black life. While I appreciated Browne's thorough analysis, her chronology haphazardly skips from transatlantic slave s
Mtume Gant
Aug 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Provactive argument and great addition to the ongoing discussion of how Blackness exists in America's seemingly contradictory consumer but also surveillance world. Wish the book was a bit more exhaustive, I was constantly left with many questions, especially in wondering how the author perceived the existence of her historical findings (especially around slave branding) in contemporary society, so I actually wanted MORE. It also feels at time a little scatterbrained but I think thats because of ...more
Mar 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Browne traces the surveillance of blackness from past to present. While at times infuriating, the book is important. What’s also great about Browne is that there is an element of hope in her writing as each chapter concludes with a description of an art instillation that “talks back” against these practices.
Derek Fenner
Dec 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
A book that does exactly what it has set out to do: " to situate the dark, blackness, and the archive of slavery and its afterlife as a way to trouble and expand understandings of surveillance" (p.164). ...more
Ryan Kapsar
I wish the people that created the Netflix Documentary The Social Dilemma had read this book, I believe it would have provided a great deal of context around surveillance. Through the context of reading about race, I've learned a lot about American history that I regret not knowing earlier in my life. This is one of those books that does multiple things at once. First, it teaches about Black history in general, not just Black people in America, but in Africa as well. Second, it teaches about th ...more
Oct 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I read Dark Matters for one of my graduate school classes and it is, point blank, a phenomenal book. It is historical and engrossing, simultaneously difficult to read and impossible to put down for too long.

I highly, highly recommend reading Dark Matters, to go beyond the basic notion of what constitutes surveillance, when surveillance began in America, and how surveillance is encoded into the lives of some but not others--willingly or unwillingly. Sometimes both.
Jul 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Compelling counter-analysis of the panopticon and what this concept hides from view when it comes to surveillance. Particularly the analysis of the plantation and the slave ship as spaces of incarceration helps to construe a more nuanced view of how space, surveillance and racial stigmatisation work together in an American context.
Jul 09, 2020 rated it liked it
This was a very interesting but dense and jargonic book for the majority of it. The last chapter felt a little rushed and superficial in its analysis, more akin to a list of anecdotes to illustrate points without really explaining them, which I felt was a shame because it would be very relevant to contemporary readers.
Mike Mena
Dec 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely brilliant. Academic but accessible. Intellectually profound but highly entertaining. Will assign to students in the future. (Also, will be of interest to Foucaultian scholars.)
Julia  K
Jan 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
amazing, brilliant etc.
Aug 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
sometimes gets a little too into the weeds on cultural/semiotic theory, but the scope of the book eith regards to surveillance creep is fantastic.
Oct 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Damn. Yes. Wish I had read this about five years ago, but no time like the present. Really learned a lot and loved Browne's cogent argumentation. ...more
Jan 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I couldn’t put this book down. The character development is absolutely amazing .
Riley Cavanaugh
Jan 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book is one of my all time favorites just like Simone Browne is one of my all time fav writers and thinkers. One for the bookshelf!!!
Feb 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely brilliant--a must read this year as we spend more time online. Understanding the relationship between surveillance and the formation of race is crucial for anti-racism work.
Apr 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Very informative and well structured
I loved learning more history and more concepts on blackness and how persuasive surveillance was
Branding and the commodification of blackness during slavery
Mari Lewis
Apr 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really accessible and frankly brilliant.
Mills College Library
305.89607 B884 2015
Apr 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Really engaging and important read in the way that blackness has been at the center of surveillance technologies and practices, dating back to the transatlantic slave trade. Brown draws from a rich mixture of textual evidence - historical documents (ship manifests, diaries, photographs, advertisements etc), technological devices and practices (did you know that there are eBay auctions for slave paraphernalia such as branding irons?), film, literature, and so forth. The result is a study that dem ...more
C.E. G
Apr 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
At first I thought it might be too academic-y for me, but it turned out to be a really engaging look at surveillance/sousveillance of black people throughout North American history.
Bill Brydon
Oct 16, 2017 added it
Shelves: theory
"Surveillance is understood here as meaning “oversight,” with the French prefix sur- meaning “from above” and the root word -veillance deriving from the French verb veiller and taken to mean observing or watching. The root word -veillance is differently applied and invoked, for example, with the terms “überveillance” (often defined as electronic surveillance by way of radio-frequency identification or other devices embedded in the living body), “redditveillance” (the crowdsourcing of surveillanc ...more
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Simone Browne is Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

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“Epidermal thinking marks the epistemologies concerning sight at the site of the racial body.” 1 likes
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