Fall 2019 - CMNS 857 G200

Selected Topics in Communication Studies (5)

Media, Race & Surveillance

Class Number: 10599

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 3 – Dec 2, 2019: Fri, 2:30–5:20 p.m.



Specialized graduate course offering on a topic related to the current research of school faculty or visiting professor.


Topic: Media, Race and Surveillance: A Critical Study of Mass Incarceration

How did liberal democratic states end up so reliant on the prison? Despite years of prison abolitionist movements, “the prison”, in the words of Angela Davis, “is considered so ‘natural’ that it is extremely hard to imagine life without it” (Davis 2003, 10). Arguably, the naturalization of the prison and related technologies of incarceration over time has led to the expansion of prisons and the extension of carceral logistics into everyday life. These logistics are assisted in part through systems of data, technology and surveillance tools. Indeed we are living and breathing through an intensification of carcerality, which informs our social world.

The technologies of surveillance, however, do not exist in a social, political, and cultural vacuum. Various scholars have illustrated how technology is itself functioning through forms of social and political bias. In Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness (2015), for instance, Simone Browne resoundingly challenges contemporary surveillance studies by highlighting the ways in which black bodies are uniquely framed through technologies of data gathering and visual surveillance, and have been since the time of the transatlantic slave trade.

This course will take as its point of departure an examination into the foundation of democracy and the meaning of the concept of freedom through the lens of carcerality. We will examine surveillance technologies and question the racial, gendered, abelist, and class biases that create an ontological foundation of difference. The key goal is to better understand how democracy relies on mechanisms of control and un/freedom, to purportedly guarantee freedom.


By the end of the course participants will be able to:

·      Discuss the historical and contemporary coeval relationship between prisons and democracy in the settler states of North America.

·      Think critically about the ways in which surveillance technologies are being employed by a carceral state.

·      Engage in debates regarding the idea of the meaning and struggle for freedom and contemporary ideas of the public.


  • Seminar Participation 20%
  • Seminar Paper Presentation 10%
  • Critical Media Analysis 10%
  • Mid Term Short Analysis 20%
  • Final Research Paper 40%


The School expects that the grades awarded in this course will bear some reasonable relation to established university-wide practices with respect to both levels and distribution of grades. In addition, the School will follow Policy S10.01 with respect to Academic Integrity, and Policies S10.02, S10.03 and S10.04 as regards Student Discipline. [Note: as of May 1, 2009, the previous T10 series of policies covering Intellectual Honesty (T10.02), and Academic Discipline (T10.03) have been replaced with the new S10 series of policies.]



 Simone Browne. 2015 Dark Matters On the Surveillance of Blackness. Durham: Duke University Press.

Robyn Maynard. 2017.  Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present. Toronto: Fernwood Books.

Angela Y. Davis. 2003. Are Prisons Obsolete? New York: Seven Stories Press.

Jackie Wang. 2018. Carceral Capitalism. California: Semiotexte Press.

Sherene Razack. 2015. Dying From Improvement: Inquests and Inquiries into Indigenous Deaths in Custody. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Links to online articles and other materials will be made available online.


1.     Ruth Wilson Gilmore. 2006. Golden Gulag : Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. California: University of California Press. 

2.     Michel Foucault. 1977. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison New York: Vintage Books.

3.     Gargi Bhattachararyya  (2018) Rethinking Racial Capitalism: Questions   Reproduction and Survival. London: Rowman and Littlefield.

Graduate Studies Notes:

Important dates and deadlines for graduate students are found here: http://www.sfu.ca/dean-gradstudies/current/important_dates/guidelines.html. The deadline to drop a course with a 100% refund is the end of week 2. The deadline to drop with no notation on your transcript is the end of week 3.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html