How the digital humanities inform surveillance studies

A series of public lectures by academics who use the digital humanities to inform and conduct surveillance research. Hosted by the Surveillance, Race, & Empire Learning Community, affiliated with University of Toronto's Critical Digital Humanities Initiative.


Working group member

Event co-organizer


Digital humanities

Surveillance studies

Affiliation & Funding

Critical Digital Humanities Initiative

University of Toronto


Jan 2022 – Jun 2022


Dr. Jennifer Ross

Arun Jacob

Sebastian Rodriguez

Dr. Christina Boyles

Andrew Petersen


The Surveillance, Race, and Empire Learning Community was a working group within the University of Toronto's Critical Digital Humanities Initiative (CDHI) that aimed to learn about the methodologies, ethical considerations, and research protections within digital humanities surveillance studies. The group interrogated surveillance sites, including biometrics and geographic information systems, to understand the racialization and imperial ideologies/practices embedded in their technologies.

We examined how digital humanities helped build and shift the field of surveillance studies by hosting a series of public-facing lectures between March and June of 2022. Speakers included scholars who could assist educators and scholars in navigating the field of digital humanities surveillance studies.

#tresdancing and EdTech Surveillance

Speculative Surveillance for Social Critique

– Presented by Dr. sava saheli singh

A public viewing and discussion of the latest Screening Surveillance film, #tresdancing. The fourth film in the series, #tresdancing speculates the effects of escalating surveillance and control through educational technology. In this near future fiction narrative, a young person has little choice as they are forced to ramp up their engagement with a new, experimental technology in order to make up for a failing grade. Viewing of the short film was followed by discussion with creator Dr. sava saheli singh.

Russia, Syria, Ukraine and the Theatre of Ware

An Iron Curtain for a Hybrid Empire

– Presented by Dr. Kenzie Burchell

A public lecture by Dr. Kenzie Burchell exploring the role of state media in military campaigns. Empires are built on strategic networks of geographic control and the steadfast persistence of socially cohering strategic communication, but hybrid war has rewritten the rules and practices of what constitutes power for a landscape increasingly defined by uncertainty. This talk drew from collaborative research over the past decade to examine how divergence in the coverage of military sieges, humanitarian crises, and threats to individual life offers insights into how state media and the military work in tandem to craft dueling realities of conflict and conquest. The Syrian and Ukrainian conflicts offer ominous lessons in how orchestrating a particular fog of war can translate into the iron curtain of a hybrid empire.

Technocapitalism and the Policing of Race and Space

An Iron Curtain for a Hybrid Empire

– Presented by Dr. Constantine Gidaris

A public lecture by Dr. Constantine Gidaris exploring how racial capitalism and technocapitalism are bound up in modern policing, particularly within the United States. It delves into this relationship by scrutinizing the 1033 program and the ways in which weapons and technologies flow from private companies and the military to local law enforcement agencies. More specifically, the talk situates racial capitalism and technocapitalism within law enforcement’s increased use and interest in robots, arguing that their deployment in public space will constitute a form of violence that is likely to intensify the racist and discriminatory dynamics that undergird the institution of policing.

Becoming Opaque, Becoming No-Body

Imagining Trans Futurity Beyond Remembrance

– Presented by Kanika Lawton

The virtuality of Trans Day of Remembrance (TDOR) commemorations, such as the uploading of images of now-dead trans people of colour on “In Memoriam” pages, and the supposed perpetuity of the digital “afterlife,” foregrounds this talk’s concerns over what it means to imagine “queer and trans vitality” (Haritaworn, Adi Kuntsman, & Silvia Posocco, 18) beyond the hypervisibility of trans death and its online circulation of remembrance. This talk proposes queer and trans methods of moving, living, and flourishing that disrupt the surveillant capture of trans life as always-already presupposed to death by refusing recognition and visibility, instead turning to opacity and its shifting modalities as a way of being elsewhere. Pulling from such theoretical frameworks as dark sousveillance, queer opacity, trans of colour poetics, and no-bodiness, this talk situates objects such as Zach Blas’ Facial Weaponization Suite, micha cárdenas’ collaborative UNSTOPPABLE, and the emergence of Trans Day of Resilience into a wider project of trans futurity grounded in refuting the death-making present. Ultimately, this talk asks that we imagine “another end of the world” (Eric A. Stanley, 91) by working towards a future untethered to our hostile, cisnormative present—a queer and trans future of disruptive possibility.