Years ago, when I first began teaching COM 174 From Big Brother to Big Data: Surveillance Culture at Creighton University, I had no idea how students would respond to the course. They have been nothing short of amazing. The course has been through several iterations since I began with a framework shared by my friend and colleague Sean Lawson at the University of Utah for a similar class. With each new semester, the course material becomes more complex. Too often, we find ourselves working through complex webs of terminology. In response to that trend, I began to think about ways to make critical concepts more available in the class. Inspired by folks I’ve encountered who work on collaborative resources authored by students, I decided that my students and I would write a glossary of key terms in surveillance studies.

I developed a list of almost 200 terms that we discuss in the course. From that list, I selected the 50 I viewed as most important. I asked students to choose a term, offer a concise definition of the concept that makes its connection to surveillance studies clear, and to provide a clear example of the concept. Students jumped in, researching, writing, and revising. The entries in this glossary represent the work of students who voluntarily agreed to share their work publicly. This edition contains 26 entries from students. I plan to continue the project in future semesters, adding concepts along the way. I have left this project so appreciative of the work students do and their willingness to experiment with me along the way.

Call for Contributions

I would love to collaborate with other instructors who teach on the topic of surveillance and security. If you would like to use this assignment in your classes and help grow this project, please contact me at


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Key Concepts in Surveillance Studies Copyright © 2019 by Guy McHendry, Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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