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Rethinking surveillance historically: From the medieval eye-of-God to the modern eye-of-power

Rethinking surveillance historically: From the medieval eye-of-God to the modern eye-of-power

Criminology Annual Lecture 2024

Date: March 14, 2024 
Time: 3 - 5 p.m. 
Location: CLH (Curtis Lecture Halls) B

Professor David Lyon headshot

Speaker: Professor David Lyon (Queen’s University). Professor David Lyon is the former Director of the Surveillance Studies Centre, and Professor Emeritus of Sociology and of Law at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario. A pioneer in the field of Surveillance Studies, he has authored or edited 31 books – translated into 18 languages – and many articles, including The Electronic Eye (1994), and the latest one, Pandemic Surveillance (2022). He has led several large global collaborative research projects on surveillance. His work has been recognized in Canada, Switzerland, the USA and the UK with a number of fellowships, prizes, awards and an honorary doctorate. 

Abstract: Surveillance is imagined as a “modern” issue, associated today with globalized digital technologies. The word surveillance first appears in 1802. But activities appropriately described as surveillance have existed since ancient times. By exploring surveillance practices and meanings in medieval and early modern Europe, we find a discernible shift described by Foucault as being from the “eye-of-God” to the modern “eye-of-power.” Crudely put, this secularizing of surveillance exchanged God’s omniscience for ‘all-seeing’ innovations such as the Panopticon, where, Bentham believed, surveillance power could be automated. But what exactly was gained and lost in the process? And what light is shed by such an analysis on contemporary debates over AI-assisted surveillance or surveillance capitalism?  

Criminology Program 
Resource Centre for Public Sociology (RCPS) at the Department of Sociology 
Department of Social Science 
Graduate Program in Socio-Legal Studies 
Department of Communication and Media Studies 

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