Surveillance in the United States: From the War on Drugs to the War on Terrorism

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Mass mobilization to reform US society by the state is frequently characterized as a “war,” such as the War on Poverty, the War on Crime, the War on Drugs. In particular, aspects of war efforts often parallel the very real discourse and approaches taken during the War on Drugs and the War on Terrorism, for example. Thus, I compare the War on Drugs and War on Terrorism (post-9/11) in terms of the domestic surveillance approaches taken during these periods and examine the disproportionate impacts on communities, in particular, Muslim American ones. I apply the concepts of penality/the logic of punishment to highlight the focus on increased funding for the police over social service provision, the body politic to analyze whose bodies require surveillance and control, and the criminalization of everyday life to explore the consequences of mass surveillance. Through these anthropological frameworks, I demonstrate: 1). in the framing of the War on Drugs and the War on Terrorism, citizens are portrayed differently based on their background; 2). in both wars, the criminalization of everyday life occurs, although the approaches to surveillance differ; 3). by relying on punishment to prevent terrorism, policymakers contribute to hypermarginality among Muslim American communities.


Winner of the 2022 Library Award for Undergraduate Research