POST 4: [UNDESIGN] SCRIPTING FUTURES pt1

When I started this page I said I was going to post some of the things I've made during my PhD – this post will be about some of it. In this case, the use of film and TV scripts as a method. The post recycles some of the content from a talk I gave about my research last week, and builds on some of the things that were raised during the conversation.


Scripts as a research method.


In a previous post I described how part of what my research is attempting to do is: undesign the BWC. Practically, this undesign involves the use of design activities and outcomes to 'crack open' BWC and shed light on the complex ways in which technologies (designs) such as the BWC interact with a range of objects and systems. Theoretically it draws on the idea of the 'black-box', which, to summarise very briefly is 'a device, system or object which can be viewed in terms of its inputs and outputs, without any knowledge of its internal workings'. The black box according to Latour is:

'the way scientific and technical work is made invisible by its own success. When a machine runs efficiently, when a matter of fact is settled, one need focus only on its inputs and outputs and not on its internal complexity. Thus, paradoxically, the more science and technology succeed, the more opaque and obscure they become.'

Pandora's Hope Essays on the Reality of Science Studies



Axon Body 3


From this perspective the BWC is a black box – which of course it literally is – we think of it only terms of inputs an outputs rather than its internal complexity. But what is inside a BWC? What makes it work? The easy and obvious answer is of course to describe the hardware: a camera, internal memory etc. More complex, perhaps, would be to think of the software: if then else. But there are other components which make it work (and break down); other things inside the black box. If we pay the object some attention, and accept it as complex we get glimpses of what these might be. We reveal new inputs and outputs, and that it is connected and tangled with a web of connections.


The practices which collectively I describe as undesign are a way of revealing this complexity, and asking carefully crafted questions about the components we find. Undesign accepts the BWC as complex, it celebrates this fact. It is a way to open up the box or, following Latour, a way to unsettle it.


Apologies for the longish digression.


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So What?


BWCs produce images of policing. While the view point is certainly novel, images of policing are certainly not. Leishman and Mason note the close, even symbiotic connection between the police and police fiction. Films such as The Blue Lamp (1949) evidence the long history of fictional portrayals of policing, and of what Leishman and Mason refer to as 'police factions' the blurring between police fiction and police fact, the film famously having the full support the Metropolitan Police who provided locations and expertise for the production. Indeed, as Robert Reiner notes, in the post war era public understanding of policing has been informed by our consumption of images of them.


So the BWC and the police who wear them are tangled up in fiction. Fiction is a space of policing. And BWC footage exists in a sea of other kinds of police images.This is not to trivialise the BWC or policing I hasten to add, but instead to say that policing and in turn the BWC cannot truly be understood without recognising this.


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Alternative Scripts


The following activity/though experiment/method references the connection between policing and fiction, and leverages the potential of fiction, using it as a space for investigation, experimentation, and for thinking. Officer Serpico turns on his BWC...



Whenever when I get really stuck for ideas or fed up with my work I tend to go home and watch a film. In order to make myself feel better about this procrastination I usually find one that is at least in some way related to my research. Luckily there are lots of films about the police! Serpico (1973)

is a classic; a film I can happily watch again and again. One afternoon relatively early in this project when I was feeling slightly overwhelmed, I put on the film. After a couple of scenes, I decided I would to try a thought experiment: I decided to imagine that Frank Serpico had a BWC.


How would the BWC function in the plot?

What would the BWC do in narrative the film?

How would Serpico, and the corrupt officers he worked with react to the device?


As I watched I made some mental notes. In a way it was completely ridiculous, for a start in 1973 digital cameras didn’t exist and evidence management would have been a real problem! But the exercise was also quite revealing and allowed me to actively think though some of the reading and more ‘academic’ research I had been doing. Ideas from some of the quantitative criminological studies such as Ariel et al.’s ‘Contagious Accountability’, could be tested out with ‘real’ characters. The next day I downloaded a copy of the script, selected a scene which had seemed particularly relevant the day before, and got out my red pen. I watched the scene on repeat and made notes. After a while, I had decided what the effect of the BWC might be in the scene, and critically the moment when the BWC would have been turned on.


N.B. – I concluded that, in order to examine the effects of BWCs it made more sense for the uniformed cops to be wearing the technology rather than Serpico himself.


Finally, I neatened up my annotations, selected a number of key stills from the scene in order to give some context, and produced a new script for my alternative scene and an edited version.



Though this somewhat silly exercise I was able to test out the possible implications of the technology within the fictional space. The scenes, products of their time, and part of their own narrative each bring their own 'baggage' or issues that can be related to the BWC – Dirty Harry being prime example.




In the next post I will discuss this activity further, and talk about how it and similar activities have informed my research whilst reflecting on the process.


T