David Lyon (sociologist)

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Professor David Lyon at Erasmus University in Rotterdam.

David Lyon directs the Surveillance Studies Centre, is a Professor of Sociology, holds a Queen’s Research Chair and is cross-appointed as a Professor in the Faculty of Law at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Lyon received a B.Sc. and Ph.D. in social science and history at the University of Bradford in Yorkshire, UK, fueling a fascination with driving forces behind and social consequences of some major transformations of the modern world.

Best known internationally for his work in Surveillance Studies, Lyon defines surveillance as the “operations and experiences of gathering and analyzing personal data for influence, entitlement or management.” As well, he has developed key concepts in the field, such as "social sorting." Lyon has also taught and researched in the areas of information society, globalization, secularization, and postmodernity. He is author, co-author, editor or co-editor of 28 books. His books have been translated into 16 languages.

He is a co-editor of the journal Surveillance & Society, Associate Editor of The Information Society and is on the international editorial board of a number of other academic journals. Since 2000 Lyon has led a series of team projects; currently, “Big Data Surveillance” (2015-2020). He is also on the international advisory boards of other major projects in Surveillance Studies.

He has held visiting appointments in a number of universities including Auckland, Bir Zeit, Edinburgh, Leeds, Melbourne, Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, the Centre for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris. Lyon has also encouraged surveillance research initiatives and groups around the world, especially in Israel/Palestine and the Middle East, Japan, and Latin America.

Sociology, Religion, the Secular[edit]

Lyon’s dissertation focused on the historical sociology of belief-change in Victorian England and his early work explored the mutual relations of Christian social thought and the social sciences in works such as Karl Marx: A Christian Appreciation of his Life and Thought (1979) and Sociology and the Human Image (1983).

The Steeple’s Shadow: On the Myths and Realities of Secularization (1986), questioned theories which suggest that religious belief and practice decline with the coming of modernity. Locally, he wrote a parish study of St James’ Anglican church, Kingston; Living Stones (1995).

Jesus in Disneyland (2000) investigated the ways in which religious activities are affected by the so-called postmodern turn, and the co-edited (with Marguerite Van Die) Rethinking Church, State and Modernity: Canada between Europe and America (2000) examined the question from the perspective of political sociology. The latter research was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Lyon has contributed to the debate over the “post-secular” both directly, for example in "Being post-secular in the social sciences: Charles Taylor’s social imaginaries” New Blackfriars, 91: 648-662, 2010 and indirectly, in “Surveillance and the Eye of God” Studies in Christian Ethics, 27(1): 21-32, 2014.

Surveillance, Technology, Digital Modernity[edit]

During the 1980s Lyon examined how new technologies are involved in social change and offered a balanced assessment in books such as The Information Society: Issues and Illusions (1988).

In a short book on Postmodernity (1994) he suggested that currently fashionable theoretical debates had to be understood in relation to social changes, especially the development of new media and the cultural prominence of consumerism. Today, he refers more to “liquid” and “digital” modernity.

Lyon’s work on social aspects of new technologies concerns the processing of personal data. See The Electronic Eye: The Rise of Surveillance Society (1994). This blossomed into a research program that became increasingly collaborative, international and multi-disciplinary. Lyon’s “social sorting” concept signals that while “privacy” is not to be minimized, broader questions of ethics and social justice, including civil liberties and human rights, are also prompted by the intensification of surveillance. This is seen even more starkly in a post-Snowden environment (see Surveillance After Snowden, 2015) where Big Data practices now play a central role (see “Snowden, surveillance and big data: capacities, consequences and critique” Big Data & Society, 1(1), 2014.

The argument of The Electronic Eye was complemented by Surveillance Society: Monitoring Everyday Life (2001) that focused on global developments and the increasing use of the body as a source of data, and then by Surveillance after September 11 (2003) that focuses on 9/11’s role in expanding surveillance and diminishing human rights, capitalizing on fear, suspicion and secrecy. In the ironically titled Surveillance Studies: An Overview (2007 Lyon lays out dynamically the key features of Surveillance Studies.

Identification, Ethics, Human Flourishing[edit]

Identifying Citizens: ID Cards as Surveillance (2009) picked up on themes explored by Lyon since the late 1980s but also relating to more recent technical and political developments. The parallel volume here is the co-edited (with Colin Bennett) Playing the Identity Card: Surveillance, Security and Identification in Global Perspective (2008). Each book refers to Lyon’s concept of the “card cartel” as a means of understanding the political economy of IDs at a time when “showing ID” has become a central – and novel – feature of social relations around the world.

Ethics has been integral to Lyon’s work over many years, seen in his current work (e.g. “Liquid Surveillance: the Contribution of Zygmunt Bauman to Surveillance Studies” International Political Sociology, 4: 325-338, 2010 and Liquid Surveillance, co-authored with Zygmunt Bauman 2013). Today, says Lyon, more than ever, ethical questions demand attention because the issues are so large, urgent and intractable. While educational, legal, technical and other approaches are vital, he insists that it is also crucial both to confront the agents of surveillance and to consider current developments in terms of emerging political subjects, the common good and human flourishing.

Recognition[edit]

  • 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award American Sociological Association Communication and Information Technology Section
  • 2008 Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada
  • 2008-2010 Killam Research Fellow, the Canada Council’s highest award
  • 2012 Outstanding Contribution Award from the Canadian Sociological Association
  • 2014 Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (UK).
  • 2015 Insight-Impact Award from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
  • 2016 Doctor honoris causa, Università della Svizzera Italiana, Switzerland

Selected works[edit]

External links[edit]