Surveillance and You

Instructors: Sylvia Tomasch
Fridays, 10:00 AM – 12:40 PM
Macaulay Honors College, Online
Course Code: MHC 361

This course will address three questions: What is surveillance historically? What is surveillance now? How is surveillance at work in your own life? To answer these questions, we will explore important instances of surveillance in European and U.S. history along with creative texts in a variety of media (print, film, games, artworks, architecture, etc.).

Although the term “surveillance” was coined during the French Revolution, linked by Robespierre to both “virtue and terror,” in practice surveillance may be positive (e.g., ICU monitoring), negative (e.g., HUAC lists of subversives and fellow travelers), and neutral (e.g., census reports). The contemporary academic discipline of Surveillance Studies has developed sophisticated terminology to describe many varieties of surveillance, distinguishing surveillance (or surveillance from above), sousveillance (or surveillance from below), and coveillance (or lateral surveillance), as well as bioveillance (surveillance of or through the body) and dataveillance (surveillance of or through information or information systems). Surveillance Studies also distinguishes the disciplinary from the control society, and physical identity from the digital (or data) double.

Considering these concepts will provide the framework for the course, the ultimate goal of which is for students to discover and assess how different modes of surveillance are at work in their own lives and how they themselves participate in surveillance of themselves and others. Students will be asked to identify instances of surveillance at Macaulay Honors College, in CUNY, in their own neighborhoods, and in their own major subject areas as well as in historical, literary, and cinematic texts. They will also bring in for class consideration examples of surveillance in which they participate, e.g., babysitting, social media, and gaming. Students will thereby come to understand that surveillance does not necessarily rely upon nor can be identified solely with electronic activity. Although such kinds of surveillance are pervasive in our society, in fact, no society could function without it in some form.