Surveillance in the Cybercity (Urban Studies/Social Justice 221)

UR221 Surveillance in the CybercitySaint Peter’s University: Spring 2014

As urban dwellers engage with smartphones, debit cards, social networking sites, transportation systems, and public spaces, their routines increasingly generate troves of data on daily life. This data is typically used by governments, corporations, educational institutions, activist organizations, and everyday people to inform actions slight and profound. Despite the “big data” generated from everyday practice, little public attention has been paid to the historical geography of inequality and injustice associated with this surveillance. This course analyzes surveillance as part of the contemporary urban form so as to critically consider the history, geography, and politics of public privacy, property, and security in the “cybercity.” Students will gain an overview of common surveillance and dataveillance practices that are entailed in their daily routines as inhabitants of the Greater New York City Metropolitan Area. Course projects are designed to encourage students to connect their lived experiences with relevant research, social theory, current events, and field work.

Learning Outcomes

  • Demonstrate critical thinking, writing, and speaking skills in all course requirements.
  • Develop an appreciation for, and demonstrate understanding through oral and written discussion of, key concepts and current issues relevant to contemporary urban and surveillance studies.
  • Develop and demonstrate competency in analyzing and discussing issues of personal and collective privacy, property, and security in contemporary urban development.

Themed Reading Modules

  • Big Data and Smart Urbanism
  • Surveillance as Everyday Practice
  • Surveillance as Urban Form
  • Public and Private Domains
  • Labor in the Cybercity
  • Urban Privatization and Proprietary Media
  • Social Justice in the Cybercity

Course Structure
Participation – An assessment of each student’s class participation will be made based upon their contributions to in-class discussions as well as the comments and posts they publish to the course’s Blackboard Discussion Board.

Digital Footprint Project – Each student will conduct an auto-ethnography of their daily digital engagements. Methods for documenting and sharing the information produced from these ethnographies will be co-developed in class with the goal of sharing and reflecting on such engagements in relation to course readings. The final reporting for the project will include both a written statement (700 words) and visual component (5min in-class presentation).

Cybercity Manifesto – Each student will write a manifesto that re-imagines the role of surveillance in contemporary cybercities. Manifestos (1,500 words) must draw from at least 4 of the assigned readings to clearly propose what rights to public privacy, property, and security should exist in the student’s ideal cybercity. These proposals should specifically consider how contemporary surveillance—as both social practice and urban form—could support a more just and democratic cybercity.

Two Quizzes – There will be two quizzes administered in-class. Quizzes will be short, pertain to the readings and in-class lectures, and are listed on the syllabus.

Final Exam – There will be a final exam covering the assigned readings, discussions, and lectures. The exam will include a combination of multiple choice (mostly definitional) and short answer questions. Sample short answer questions and a list of concepts to be reviewed will be posted to the course site approximately a week before the final exam.