Spring 2022 - IS 319 D100

Special Topics in Comparative World Politics, Culture and Society (4)

Surveillance Capitalism in Global Context

Class Number: 5324

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu 11:30 AM – 2:20 PM

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units.



Specific details of courses to be offered will be published prior to enrollment each term.



Explores how digital information technology development is transforming societies, political systems, and economies around the world. Examines the origins of surveillance and data assessment and the political, economic, and ethical challenges automated technologies present by focusing on contemporary cases and their effects are related to the socio-economic, gender, ethnic and racial positions of individuals and communities.
Breadth-Humanities/Social Sciences.


As many as three billion people around the world now use smart phones. In many parts of the world, social media apps have become the dominant way that people produce and consume knowledge. These AI-assisted communication tools, from smart speakers to diet apps, feed on human experience. Using machine learning they claim life experience as surplus data that can be turned into prediction products. These products are in turn sold to advertisers or, in some cases, policing agencies in order to predict and shape the behavior of targeted populations. This new frontier in capital accumulation, what Shoshana Zuboff names “surveillance capitalism,” is producing a new political and economic relation to human experience. Because of its interlinkages between global fields of power projected by states such as the United States and China, and private-public transnational corporations, such as Amazon, Google, Facebook, Alibaba, Huawei and Hikvision, this new economic and political formation demands a response from social scientists who are deeply embedded in communities around the world.


This course will examine the emergence of surveillance capitalism from a number of vantage points. How did this new form of digital capitalism first emerge in North America? How is digital technology reshaping social life in places such as Brazil, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Palestine, United Arab Emirates, India, Indonesia, Philippines, the Uyghur region of Northwest China and elsewhere? What is the role of counter-insurgency theory, authoritarian politics, and geopolitics in guiding the values of these systems? In what ways is surveillance capitalism connected to other economic formations such as disaster capitalism, racial capitalism and managerial capitalism? How can this system be hacked and transformed by democratic movements?


  • Weekly Reading Responses 30%
  • Participation 10%
  • Case Study Essay 20%
  • Final Essay 40%


Students will be required to submit their written assignments to Turnitin.com in order to receive credit for the assignments and for the course.

The School for International Studies strictly enforces the University's policies regarding plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty. Information about these policies can be found at: http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/teaching.html.



Required readings will be available on Canvas, online, or in the SFU Library’s electronic collection.

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


Teaching at SFU in spring 2022 will involve primarily in-person instruction, with safety plans in place.  Some courses will still be offered through remote methods, and if so, this will be clearly identified in the schedule of classes.  You will also know at enrollment whether remote course components will be “live” (synchronous) or at your own pace (asynchronous).

Enrolling in a course acknowledges that you are able to attend in whatever format is required.  You should not enroll in a course that is in-person if you are not able to return to campus, and should be aware that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who may need class or exam accommodations, including in the context of remote learning, are advised to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112) as early as possible in order to prepare for the spring 2022 term.