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Lakehead Prof’s Research on Past Governmental Monitoring Methodologies Highlighted at National Conference

(November 24, 2010 – Thunder Bay, ON) The work of Dr. Gary Genosko, Lakehead University Sociology Professor and Canada Research Chair in Technoculture, was highlighted today as  part of the Canada Research Chairs’ week-long 10th anniversary conference, at which approximately 1000 researchers, scholars, and members of Canada’s scientific community are in attendance.  Dr. Genosko will be discussing content from the 2009 book he co-wrote, entitled Punched Drunk: Alcohol, Surveillance, and the LCBO, 1927-1975.

In this work, Dr. Genosko’s research deals with the history of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), which for nearly 50 years kept tabs on who bought alcohol and where they lived.   In the past, those who purchased liquor needed a license to do so, and the LCBO could monitor customers to make sure they weren't abusing their privileges.

This type of monitoring by Ontario's liquor outlets may now be a thing of the past, but Dr. Genosko says those discriminatory policies can still teach us important lessons, especially about the potential legalization of marijuana.

Dr. Genosko also explains the government’s past tendency to build files about the average person who may or may not have been buying “too much” whiskey – files which were often shared with other provincial agencies, operating like a law unto themselves.􏰃

Today there is thankfully no worry that government bodies will cut off patrons if they purchase what is deemed to be an excess number of alcoholic items.  However, Dr. Genosko discusses the new fear that those practices could be repeated in different contexts, particularly if cannabis is legalized as it nearly was in California earlier this fall during the U.S. mid-term elections.  “It's not just one corporation monitoring you these days, but a whole network of them,” he says.  “Our fear today is that all the fragments of our personal data will somehow be used together in a diabolical way.  The important lesson is not to repeat that strategy and to allow people to participate in the construction of their own informatic identities.”

The LCBO's surveillance techniques, Dr. Genosko says, are just one example of what he calls the informatics of subjugation, which is an area of study he's been interested in for decades.  It focuses on how artificially imposed classes and categories subjugate large numbers of people and how those systems, which perpetuate those categories, evolve as a result of those who resist them.

As Dr. Genosko notes, it was the LCBO cashiers and other front-line workers who rebelled.   They realized the government was monitoring their actions as well, and would often sabotage the paper trail when they had to prohibit someone from buying alcohol.  Those acts of resistance contributed to the overhaul of the system.

In another example, Genosko discusses the Canadian government’s use of dog tags among the Inuit in the 1940s as a means of better managing the early days of the country's welfare system.  The tags became a symbol of resistance long after they were used for monitoring purposes.  The Inuit would use their tag numbers in song lyrics, in their banking codes and passwords, and even display them on their home address plates. “The dog-tag policy proves that resistance doesn't just take place when the subjugation first occurs, but can carry on for years or even decades afterward,” Dr. Genosko says.

Genosko also finds it fascinating how technological innovation can come from these so-called outlaws who resist cultural categories. Even today, large-scale corporations are incorporating what would previously have been viewed as acts of resistance into their business models. Microsoft, for example, routinely uses computer hackers to test their security systems.

Dr. Genosko’s interest doesn’t necessarily lie in whether or not these sorts of resistance are good or bad, but rather how people transit from resisting to becoming part of the system, and whether or not the resulting innovations are incorporated to everyone's benefit.  “I'm trying to find as many technologically interesting examples within these kind of events that tell us something about innovation, where it comes from, and where it's going,” he says.

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Media: Dr. Genosko is available for interview via the Canada Research Chair Conference.  For more information or to arrange interviews with Dr. Genosko by telephone or email, or in person upon his return to Thunder Bay, please contact Heather Scott, Communications Officer, at 807-343-8177 or commun@lakeheadu.ca.  

About Lakehead
Lakehead is a comprehensive university with a reputation for innovative programs and cutting-edge research. With a main campus located in Thunder Bay, Ontario and a campus in Orillia, Ontario, Lakehead has over 8,280 students and 2,250 faculty and staff, and is home to the west campus of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. In 2006, Research Infosource Inc. named Lakehead University Canada's Research University of the Year in the undergraduate category. For more information on Lakehead University, visit www.lakeheadu.ca

Last updated November 24, 2010

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