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March 2015

Intersectional Approaches to Surveillance Workshop 2015


As the second installment of a bi-annual Surveillance Studies Centre workshop series, the 2015 Intersectional Approaches to Surveillance workshop strives to bring identity and intersectionality to the forefront of surveillance studies. As with the 2013 Doing Surveillance Studies workshop which aimed to highlight an important but often overlooked element of surveillance studies, the “doing” of surveillance studies or the practical realities of carrying out surveillance research, this workshop aims to reinstate the question of identity in our analysis and investigations of surveillance practices.  In doing so, this workshop aims to bring questions of identity, identity-based discrimination and intersectional experiences of surveillance to the fore.

As surveillance studies is increasingly becoming multidisciplinary and post-structural, a thought-provoking frontier for surveillance scholars is to critically focus on the ways in which identity-based discrimination can impact surveillance processes and lived experiences of surveillance. Surveillance studies has traditionally been concerned with how and why populations are tracked, profiled, policed and governed, as well as the ways in which those who are subjects of surveillance manage, negotiate and resist these processes. As an interdisciplinary field of study, surveillance studies is shaped by questions that center on the management of everyday and exceptional life – for example, queries relating to personal data, privacy, security, and terrorism. We are excited to push the boundaries of these queries, encouraging approaches to surveillance studies that consider the ways in which surveillance processes are impacted by intersectional identity markers such as gender, sexuality, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and (dis)ability. We are also interested in the ways in which surveillance studies can be methodologically or analytically impacted by adopting an intersectional approach when conducting surveillance-related research.

Surveillance scholars (for example, Kirstie Ball et al., 2009) have highlighted the importance of considering gender and sexuality in our analyses of surveillance studies. Further considerations of class, able-bodiedness, ethnicity, and race are also a key part of continuing to build more nuanced understandings of how experiences of surveillance can differ depending on individuals’ unique sociocultural identities. Building on work such as Dubrofsky and Magnet’s (2015 forthcoming) edited volume on feminist approaches to surveillance, this workshop seeks to highlight critical approaches to understanding the consequences and impacts of surveillance on individuals. In particular, we are interested in approaches that adopt perspectives grounded in feminist, queer, postcolonial, poststructural, Marxist, critical race, and/or critical disability studies.

The 2015 workshop on Intersectional Approaches to Surveillance is guided by the following question: How can centering gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, dis/ability, socioeconomic status, religion, location and other identity characteristics as categories of analysis help social theorists, scholars and researchers to understand surveillance? We seek papers that explore the relationship between surveillance and configurations of these identity markers, with an emphasis on those that theorize these identity markers in an “interlocking”, interconnected way. We are also interested in papers that consider the methodological or analytical implications of intersectional approaches to surveillance studies. Papers that critically and creatively interrogate oppression, inequalities, discrimination, power and resistance are particularly encouraged. 

The workshop is intended to be a place for engaged discussion and debate; we encourage respectful discourse and critical inquiry. We envision a workshop where attendees can freely ask questions and presenters can receive feedback from their peers in an environment that is critical, yet also safe and supportive. Paper presentations and panels will occur one at a time rather than concurrently, in the interest of providing each presenter an opportunity to engage in discussion and receive peer feedback.

More Workshop Information:

Confirmed attendees include:

Oscar Gandy, Shoshana Magnet, Simone Browne, and Kevin Walby.

Possible topics and approaches include, but are not limited to:

  • Critical race, postcolonial, queer and feminist approaches to theorizing surveillance.
  • The role of surveillance technologies in social sorting, “big data”, digital discrimination, and ethnic and racial inequalities.
  • Analysis of the use of social network sites for anti-racist organizing and for shaming racist acts and “hate tweets” (for example, publicshaming.tumblr.com or the @YesYoureRacist twitter account)
  • Biometric information technologies
  • Stop-and-frisk, flying-while-brown, existing-while-black, racial and ethnic profiling in policing or the prison industrial complex.
  • Deployment of surveillance in the context of racialized transgender and gender non-conforming bodies and populations.
  • Role of surveillance in systems of colonialism, slavery, and indentureship.
  • Intersectional methodologies or analytical strategies for surveillance studies

We intend for the workshop to be a place for engaged discussion and debate; we encourage respectful discourse and critical inquiry. We envision a workshop where attendees can freely ask questions and presenters can receive feedback from their peers in an environment that is critical, yet also safe and supportive. Paper presentations will occur one at a time rather than concurrently, in the interest of providing each presenter an opportunity to engage in discussion and receive peer feedback.


Submission Information:

Please submit 200 word abstracts and author name(s), university affiliation and contact information via email to: ssc.workshop@queensu.ca.  Please put 2015 SSC Bi-Annual Workshop in subject line. 

Abstract Submission Deadline: March 16, 2015

Workshop Dates: June 11th-13th, 2015

Workshop Information:

The workshop will begin with welcoming remarks, a keynote speaker and opening panel at 18:00 on Thursday 11 June. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Oscar Gandy, followed by an opening panel who will consider the role of intersectionality in surveillance studies and will also be available to answer questions put forth by workshop participants.  

The workshop sessions will run from 9:00 to 17:00 on Friday 12 June and Saturday 13 June. Paper presentations will each be 15 minutes in length with an additional 10 minutes for questions.

Following the final workshop session, a dinner for all workshop participants will be held on Saturday, 13 June at 18:00.


Donald Gordon Conference Centre
421 Union Street
Kingston, Ontario
Canada K7L 3N6


Overnight accommodation is available in the Donald Gordon Centre and will include breakfast, lunch and dinner for June 12, 13.  Day attendees will receive lunch and refreshments throughout each full day, as well as the workshop dinner on June 13.

Fees: Day attendees: $275; Overnight attendees: $550

Any additional funding received by the workshop organizers will be used to supplement registration and accommodation fees for graduate student participants.

Please email the conference organizers with any questions at: ssc.workshop@queensu.ca.

Organizers: David Murakami Wood (Queen’s University), Ciara Bracken-Roche (Queen’s University) & Trevor Milford (Carleton University)

#AskSnowden: Privacy, Ethics, Bill C-51 and Mass Surveillance

Michael Carter, PhD Candidate at Queen's University, Speaks with Edward SnowdenMichael Carter, PhD student at Queen's University, speaks with Edward Snowden

The #AskSnowden event, hosted by CBC News, the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and Ryerson University on March 2, offered a rare opportunity to engage with Edward Snowden. Anna Maria Tremonti, host of CBC Radio’s The Current and CJFE Board Member, moderated the discussion. Snowden fielded questions from Twitter via the hashtag #AskSnowden and from members of the audience. Prominent themes in the discussion included privacy concerns, the ethics of both mass surveillance and computer hacking, and Bill C-51. The launch of the first searchable database of the files leaked by Snowden was also announced. Following the Q&A, Anna Maria Tremonti moderated a panel discussion that included: Dave Seglins of the CBC; Dr. Andrew Clement, Professor, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto; and Laura Tribe, CJFE.

When asked by Michael Carter, PhD student at Queen’s University, about his personal experiences of privacy since releasing the files, Snowden replied ‘there is no way to really feel safe.’ He pointed to the vast resources of intelligence agencies as good reason for not being able to trust electronic communication. Snowden then expressed concern that government demand for weakened security of communications between citizens, which facilitates mass surveillance by the state, also reduces the barriers for cyber criminals. A later question, submitted via Twitter, asked Snowden for advice on protecting personal communication from the mass surveillance practices of intelligence agencies. He suggested that while it is not possible to fully prevent the exploitation of electronic communication, the use of ‘end to end encryption tools’ that protect messages in transit between devices is beneficial. Snowden mentioned Spideroak, RedPhone and TextSecure as plausible options.

In response to being asked if mass surveillance was effective for identifying lone terrorists Snowden offered a firm no. He further problematized mass surveillance by pointing out that it is conducted without a specific target in mind. Thus, citizens are subjected to ongoing collection of private information without just cause and without being informed. Snowden built on these points in his critique of Bill C-51, which he referred to as “an emulation of the American Patriot Act”. He suggested the legislation would further erode freedom and liberty without offering increased protection from terrorist acts, a trade off he felt the majority of citizens would be unwilling to make.

Peter Vogel (@petervogel) submitted a question via Twitter asking for advice for students in his high school ICT courses that are considering a career in computer security. Snowden offered practical advice by suggesting that regular practice is a must in a climate where what is taught in classrooms is outdated by graduation. He then spoke to the ethics of computer security, claiming that hacking is not a ‘black art’; rather it is what individuals do with knowledge about system weaknesses that determines if they are working for the benefit of society or to its detriment. Snowden underscored the importance of ethics as the hacking power wielded by members of the public continues to rise, which he illustrated with the recent hacking of an NSA website by a handful of graduate students.

 The launch of the Snowden Surveillance Archive was highlighted throughout the event. The archive was designed and built by George Raine, a recent masters student at the University of Toronto and supported by CJFE, the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen’s University, The Digital Curation Institute at the University of Toronto and the Centre for Freedom of Expression at Ryerson University. Anna Maria Tremonti asked Snowden what his hopes for the archive were. He suggested that in addition to interpretations offered by journalists, researchers and technicians desire a deeper analysis, which is made possible through access to the source documents. He also felt that having the source documents empowers people to question the merits of surveillance practices conducted by intelligence agencies.

Throughout the discussion Snowden was clearly critical of mass surveillance practices. He expressed his position quite simply when he said, “If you collect everything on everybody you don’t really understand anything about it.” He argued that knowledge of surveillance activity does not deter criminals from communicating, evidenced by the amount of telephone data that continues to be presented in criminal courts despite it being well known that wiretaps are commonly used. He asserted that mass surveillance mainly results in the indiscriminate collection of information about the personal lives of all citizens without their consent. This lack of awareness held by citizens was also a recurrent theme in Snowden’s responses. The full interview is available online at https://cjfe.org/blog/snowden-live-canada-and-security-state.

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