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May 25, 2016

Our next Science Festival 2016 talk addresses the subject of Big Brother. It's easy to be alarmist about the spread of surveillance technologies into many areas of everyday life. Orwell's 'Big Brother' is a popular image but it doesn't really get us too far in taking a sober critical stance towards surveillance in its multi-faceted guises. There's a lot of value in drawing on privacy rights as a way of challenging extensive technological systems that treat us as objects from which data is scraped and on which basis we are then categorised and acted upon. However, Dr. Eric Stoddart is suggesting that thinking about our (in)visibility - the skill we have in managing our visibility in relation to people and institutions - gives us an additional dimension to addressing significant concerns about cultures of surveillance. Considering (in)visibility also takes us quickly into questions of social justice where surveillance is disproportionately targeted at already marginalised groups of people. This means we start thinking about the negative (and possibly positive) effects of surveillance upon the Common Good. Surveillance isn't all bad so we need a critical approach that doesn't spiral into alarmist panics. He will explore what just such a response might need to look like.

Eric Stoddart grew up in Aberdeen where he also went to university - both for undergraduate and postgraduate studies. Moving into academic positions later in life he's been at the University of St Andrews for the past ten years. Since about 2008 he has been researching surveillance and publishing largely on the ethics of this everyday phenomenon. With a colleague from Sweden he is currently developing an international research network to focus specifically on issues of surveillance and religion.