Contemporary Politics of Surveillance and Privacy module (PO31018)

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Module code


Module Aims

The aims of this module are: 

  • to introduce students to the issue of surveillance as an increasingly significant feature of contemporary societies and examine its evolution in both public and private domains
  • to investigate the international significance of 9/11 in relation to the use and legitimisation of certain surveillance methods and technologies thereafter as part of the so-called war on terror
  • to analyse the relationship between technological aspects of surveillance and the social and political context in which they operate, raising questions concerned with civil liberties, legitimacy and accountability
  • to examine the current and likely future public policy implications and challenges raised by surveillance

Module Details

This module examines how surveillance has evolved from an activity synonymous with totalitarian regimes, epitomised by George Orwell’s fictional Nineteen Eighty Four, into something more complex in which private sector interests play an increasingly significant part (with technology companies at the forefront).

At the heart of the module is an assessment of the interplay between public and private contexts. However, the state continues to play a pivotal role as rule maker, retaining the capability to simultaneously both expand and limit surveillance. Privacy is the core concept used throughout the module to calibrate the effects of surveillance on individuals and society as a whole, allowing exploration of its contested and evolving nature.

Teaching sessions will cover:

  • Defining surveillance and privacy
  • The panopticon concept
  • Surveillance capitalism (e.g. Facebook, Google business model)
  • Workplace surveillance
  • Biometric technologies
  • CCTV
  • Tools of state surveillance and the control society concept
  • The Snowden revelations
  • Resisting surveillance
  • The surveillance society concept
  • Evolving governance practices around surveillance
  • Surveillance trends


This module consists of 11 lectures and 11 seminars (plus course film screenings when possible).


The assessed components on this module are:

  • two 2,500 word essays (weighted 50% each)

Intended Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

  • Develop knowledge and awareness of the ways in which everyday life is now subject to an extensive array of surveillance methods
  • Develop understanding of the socio-historical and socio-political evolution of surveillance internationally, including the development of related public policy and state actions and the role of private sector organisations such as technology companies
  • Develop knowledge and understanding of contemporary tensions arising from surveillance practices, particularly in relation to civil liberties and personal freedoms


  • Critical engagement with a contemporary issue that is central to the relationship between contemporary governance and civil society
  • Critical and reflexive thinking skill development in relation to complex, contested topics
  • Effective communication of contending viewpoints on the balance between liberty and security

Indicative Reading

Cliffe, J. (2020) ‘The rise of the bio-surveillance state: A grim choice faces 21st century societies: Privacy or pandemics?’, New Statesman, 149 (5513), pp. 30-32.

Lyon, David (2018) The Culture of Surveillance: Watching As a Way of Life (Cambridge: Polity Press).

Stalder, Felix (2002) 'Opinion. Privacy is not the Antidote to Surveillance', Surveillance and Society, Vol. 1, Issue 1, pp. 120-124.


30 credits