Strategies for keeping close watch on people have been with us throughout human history. Yet the widespread, systematic observation of the populace and the collection of personal information in democratic societies today is unprecedented. Contemporary surveillance practices are typically embedded into the routine activities of daily life and adopted in the interests of security, governance, efficiencies, and commerce, but also for personal care and protection, empowerment, resistance, and even play. Regardless of intent, these practices raise a host of social, political, ethical, and legal questions that challenge long-standing notions of privacy, civil liberties, and personal autonomy.

These profound changes leave researchers with a set of complex questions such as: What are the historical roots of contemporary surveillance? How are we to understand its multivalent features? Why have surveillance and security come to play a central role in governance? How do we understand the “social sorting” effects of surveillance that may enhance the life chances of some while diminishing those of others? What are the implications of “big data” for consumers and citizens? How can legal and policy agendas keep up with technological change? In what ways do we respond to pervasive surveillance? Are there opportunities to “design-in” data and privacy protections into technologies and systems so that we can we can exploit their advantages while reducing their deleterious consequences?

Animated by these and other questions, the goals of the Surveillance Studies Research Center (SSRC) is to facilitate scholarship, encourage collaborative partnerships, and generate external funding as it brings together scholars and students from across the University of Kansas beyond to study contemporary forms of surveillance, social monitoring, technology and privacy issues, and data gathering infrastructures. Our purpose is improve our knowledge of various forms of governmental, corporate, and individualized surveillance, understand responses to and contribute to democratic debate on surveillance practices, and raise new questions and seek new ideas about surveillance.


Photo of William G. StaplesWilliam G. Staples

William G. Staples is a Professor of Sociology and Founding Director of the SSRC. Bill received his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California and was a Postdoctoral Fellow at UCLA. He is the author of five books and dozens of articles and chapters and recipient of the 2011 Balfour Jeffrey Higuchi-KU Endowment Achievement Award and the 2012 KU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Craig Anthony Arnold Faculty Innovation Award. Bill was editor-in-chief of the award-winning two-volume Encyclopedia of Privacy and his most recent book, the second edition of Everyday Surveillance: Vigilance and Visibility in Postmodern Life, is considered a foundational work in the interdisciplinary field of Surveillance Studies.

Graduate Research Assistants

Photo of Sarah Colegrove Sarah Colegrove

Sarah is a PhD student in sociology at KU. Her doctoral research uses qualitative methods to explore the impact that recent social changes have had on religious authority in Appalachian churches. Most of her work has centered on different problems impacting Appalachian communities including those related to the environment, globalization, social change, and religion.
Photo of Matthew Comi Matthew Comi

Matt Comi is a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Kansas. His research uses qualitative methods to study social and environmental problems in rural and (sub)urban places. With funding from the National Science Foundation (Award #1946941), he is conducting dissertation research with hop farmers operating in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and across the Midwest. This project studies the practices of these unique farmers as a case example to better understand the generalizable relationships between agricultural innovation, technological change, and environmental outcomes.
Photo of Walter GoettlichWalter Goettlich

Walter is a PhD student in sociology at KU. His doctoral research investigates the relationships between traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and Western technoscience in Pacific island nations' climate change adaptation initiatives. Walter's work for the Surveillance Studies Research Center on the Digital Inequalities in the Heartland project has included ethnographic fieldwork at the Lawrence Public Library. While there, he explored computer users' experiences, in particular the strategies they employ to protect their privacy in public spaces.
Photo of Scott TuttleScott Tuttle

Scott is a PhD candidate in sociology at KU. His research focuses primarily on social inequalities in labor markets, particularly regarding individuals with advanced college degrees. More specifically, his research analyzes the effects of race, gender, and immigration status on the probability of obtaining intrafirm promotions. His research is quantitative in nature and utilizes large, nationwide data sets.