The Culture of Surveillance: Who’s watching whom, now?

Co-presented with the Surveillance and Everyday Life Research Group at the University of Sydney



Video of the event courtsey of ABC TV Big Ideas

1 March 2012
Professor David Lyon


Today surveillance is central to social experience, both as a serious security issue and as a playful part of mediated relationships. In the late 20th century the language of “surveillance society” was popularized but now the outlines of “surveillance cultures” are emerging. The former term indicated a shift beyond state monitoring; surveillance was becoming a general societal experience. “Surveillance cultures” refers to various ways that surveillance becomes a way of life. Surveillance still happens in government, policing, intelligence and commerce but it is also hard-wired into streets and buildings, wirelessly present in smart phones and the internet. It has also been democratised for mass participation through social media.

Surveillance practices are understood through popular culture and are reproduced through surveillant imaginaries. This complicates our understanding of and our responses to surveillance. To understand this we have to consider three things: First, what brought us to today’s situation? Second, what global trends inform surveillance change? Third, what local particularities shape our own experiences?


Professor John Lyon


David Lyon is Director, Surveillance Studies Centre, Queen’s Research Chair in Surveillance Studies and Professor of Sociology and Law at Queen’s University, Canada. In 2007 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Sociological Association and in 2008 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

He has authored or edited 26 books and his work has been translated into 16 languages. The most recent sole-authored books are Identifying Citizens: ID Cards as Surveillance (2009) and Surveillance Studies: An Overview (2007) and the newest co-edited collections are Eyes Everywhere: The Global Growth of Camera Surveillance (2012), Handbook of Surveillance Studies (2012).