Will count towards the SAS - Sociology Major and Minor
We live an era of mass surveillance. Our movements, purchases, digital communications, lifestyle choices, health, and productivity are all tracked and stored in various databases. Our permanent digital footprints can be used for numerous social or economic aims whether to treat, sort and rank, control, predict, exploit, or protect. Whereas some forms of surveillance like drug testing and vehicle inspections are explicit and sporadic, most forms of surveillance are disguised within everyday technologies and routines such as smart phones and Internet searches. As a result of technological breakthroughs, along with the gradual erosion of privacy rights, fewer and fewer aspects of our lives escape the net of government and corporate surveillance.
This seminar will draw from multiple disciplines in order make sense of expanded surveillance and to explore its ethical, political, and social implications. In that connection, readings and discussions will illuminate the functions of surveillance, both historically and presently, and the evolving legal and political context in which mass surveillance is legitimized. This broad frame will also enable students to explore surveillance in connection to their particular interests (e.g. science, politics, medicine, law etc.) Examining surveillance in multiple contexts—school, work, social welfare, national security, social media, health care etc.—will permit a balanced examination of the ways in surveillance can be empowering or liberating, as a well as the ways in which it can suppress freedom (especially for some social groups) and democracy.
Furthermore, we will examine whether social differences in the type and quantity of surveillance (by race, class etc.) reinforce imbalances of power and wealth in society.
PAUL HIRSCHFIELD is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University and an Affiliated Professor in the Program in Criminal Justice. He earned his Ph.D. in Sociology from Northwestern University in 2003. His research has focused on expanded criminalization and surveillance in American society. In that connection, he has demonstrated that juvenile arrests hinder educational attainment among inner-city Chicago high school students, and explain large gender differences in high school dropout among sampled African-American students. He also developed an original theory of why public schools have adopted more tools of criminal justice, including surveillance technology and why schools in divergent social contexts employ different surveillance, security, and disciplinary approaches. More recently, Dr. Hirschfield has focused on criminalization reforms. First, he is investigating the persistent non-criminalization of violence by the police. Second, he is examining efforts to “de-criminalize” school discipline in favor of non-punitive disciplinary alternatives.