As a professor of Sociology at Queen’s University in Canada, Surveillance Studies has been David Lyon’s major research area for the past 25 years. He brings a sociological perspective to bear on the issues raised by personal data processing in a data-driven world. His surveillance interests include border and airport controls, social media, organizational routines, video camera surveillance and citizen registration and identification systems. His concerns include the social sorting capacities of contemporary surveillance, along with an exploration of their ethics and politics. From 2015-2020 David Lyon is director of a $2.5 million multidisciplinary and international project examining “Big Data Surveillance”, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
From the mid-1980s, Lyon critically examined the much-hyped ‘microelectronics revolution’ that gave way to the so-called ‘information society’. In the 1990s, David Lyon focused his analyses on the social origins, incidence and consequences of processing personal data, arguing that surveillance has become a major dimension of modernity in its own right. This aspect of his research has expanded considerably, especially since 9/11, Snowden and Cambridge Analytica, and involves extensive collaboration with colleagues and students. Surveillance is a globalized phenomenon, and David Lyon’s work focuses increasingly on the global south.
While he is best known for his work in Surveillance Studies, David Lyon’s research and writing span several other areas as well. Starting in Historical Sociology in the 1970s, his early work was on secularization processes – and the critique of some key theories — in the modern world. Today, he keeps abreast of debates over the “post-secular” with an emphasis on the work of Charles Taylor. Following this, his main research directions explore other forms of social transformation that are both characteristic and constitutive of modernity.
From 2008-2010, David Lyon was a Canada Council Killam Research Fellow, investigating the current rise of national ID card systems in a cross-national comparative perspective. The work complements some of his other studies of surveillance and contributes to both empirical and theoretical understanding of contemporary smart, biometrics-based ID systems.
David Lyon is on the international editorial boards of a number of journals. His books have been translated into eighteen languages: Arabic, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Farsi, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish.
In 2005 Lyon was awarded a Queen’s Research Chair and in 2007 received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Sociological Association Communication and Information Technology Section. In 2008 David Lyon was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. In 2012 he received an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Canadian Sociological Association, in 2016 an honorary doctorate from the Università della Svizzera italiana and in 2018 a Queen’s University Award for Excellence in Graduate Supervision.