Policing Student Activism: An Institutional Ethnography of Administrative Techniques of Surveillance

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Hörsaal 6C P (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Elizabeth BRULE, York University, Canada
With the increasing corporatization of Canadian universities over the last three decades, student activism and their ability to occupy space on campuses has been increasing diminished. Through technologies of surveillance (such as CCTV cameras, security personnel and student surveillance through the use of smart phones), the political landscape of student activism on campuses has substantially changed.

    In May of 2013, Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) at York University students were subjected to surveillance by security personnel and CCTV technologies during an ‘unsanctioned’ rally in Vari Hall rotunda, which resulted in the revoking of the student group’s club status and a year-long trespass notice of suspension of York alumnus, Hammam Farah. During the rally, security personnel were dispatched to report on and video record incidents of transgression to the Student Code of Rights and Responsibility (2009). While the university administration informed security personnel not to intervene in the unsanctioned group’s activities, they were directed to gather visual and written descriptions of the ‘going ons’ of participants in the event. 

     Drawing on Kevin Walby’s work on surveillance (2005, 2014), this institutional ethnography (Smith 1999, 2002, 2010) examines how the material relations of surveillance of student activist activity is mediated by visual representations (texts) that help coordinate the social monitoring and regulation of their work.  In doing so, I hope to explicate how, from the standpoint of student activists, their everyday interactions with surveillance authorities and technologies that the social organization of knowledge behind monitoring practices can be revealed. In doing so, I hope to provide a means for student activists to use this information to subvert such practices and potentially reshape them.