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Research articles

Vol. 1 (2023)

A historical and ethical analysis of the constitutive effects of cameras

May 8, 2023


In this paper it is argued that cameras have constitutive effects on subjects and society and that these constitutive effects can have an undesirable impact on autonomy and emancipatory progress. By means of a historical analysis it is shown that cameras have shaped and directed social norms, people’s behavior, people’s perception of the world, and people’s self-formation. This historical analysis also teaches that cameras’ constitutive effects are often intended. In other words, cameras are often actively used as a tool to exercise constitutive power, which means that their impact on the world and the subject is not predetermined, but contingent. These insights from the past are especially valuable considering the fact that advancements in computer vision technology now make it possible to employ cameras for new purposes, such as augmented reality, automated surveillance, emotion recognition, facial recognition and machine vision. Learning from the history of the camera helps to take a critical stance towards these emerging smart cameras applications and ensure that, with their power to change the individual subject and society at large, smart cameras support autonomy and emancipation.