Universität Wien FIND

233043 SE Sensing In/security (2020W)

Sensors as transnational security infrastructures

5.00 ECTS (2.00 SWS), SPL 23 - Soziologie
Continuous assessment of course work


Note: The time of your registration within the registration period has no effect on the allocation of places (no first come, first served).


max. 25 participants
Language: English


Classes (iCal) - next class is marked with N

Adapted Teaching Format
In order to comply with COVID-19 safety measures, the teaching for this course is adapted in order to facilitate presence teaching. In the case that more than 15 students registered for the course, students will be randomly assigned to either Group A or Group B. Your group assignment determines your class dates and times, and the deadlines for your assignments. The TAs will inform you about which group you are assigned to before the start of the semester. In case there are less than 15 registrations for the course, all class dates and times shall comply with those of Group A.

Group dates:

Group A:
05.10: 12:45-14:45
19.10: 12:45-14:45
16.11: 12:45-14:45
30.11: 12:45-14:45
14.12: 12:45-14:45
18.01: 12:45-14:45

Group B:
12.10: 12:45-14:45
09.11: 12:45-14:45
23.11: 12:45-14:45
07.12: 12:45-14:45
11.01: 12:45-14:45
25.01: 12:45-14:45

Monday 05.10. 12:45 - 14:45 Seminarraum STS, NIG Universitätsstraße 7/Stg. II/6. Stock, 1010 Wien (Kickoff Class)
Monday 12.10. 12:45 - 14:45 Seminarraum STS, NIG Universitätsstraße 7/Stg. II/6. Stock, 1010 Wien
Monday 19.10. 12:45 - 14:45 Seminarraum STS, NIG Universitätsstraße 7/Stg. II/6. Stock, 1010 Wien
Monday 09.11. 12:45 - 14:45 Digital
Monday 16.11. 12:45 - 14:45 Digital
Monday 23.11. 12:45 - 14:45 Digital
Monday 30.11. 12:45 - 14:45 Digital
Monday 07.12. 12:45 - 14:45 Digital
Monday 14.12. 12:45 - 14:45 Digital
Monday 11.01. 12:45 - 14:45 Digital
Monday 18.01. 12:45 - 14:45 Digital
Monday 25.01. 12:45 - 14:45 Digital


Aims, contents and method of the course

Almost anything and anyone can become a sensor, gathering and transmitting data about our world. Sensors are omnipresent and increasingly important elements in constituting and controlling contemporary societies in many domains of our lives. Built into (smart) cities, communication devices, and our clothes, attached to our bodies, to drones, satellites and cars, sensors have become our mostly invisible companions. In/security is one of the domains that we now find equipped, imagined and measured with sensors. Drawing on literature from STS and critical security studies (CSS) we will explore the interplay of in/security, sensors and sensing, thinking together how practices of infrastructuring are entangled with emergent modes of surveillance and securitization enabled by sensing practices and digital infrastructures. We will explore many by now classical STS issues such as monitoring, registering, representation and visualization, issues of technological mediation and human/non-human networks; the politics of knowledge and expertise, issues of classification and categorization as well as questions concerning the shaping of societies, states and technologies with a particular view towards sensors as security infrastructures. Most sensing activities operate in the background and do not require active or direct registration by those who are monitored. Therefore, we will engage with questions about the in/visibility of sensors, asking how sensors shape and how are they being shaped by the environment in which they are placed, and by the processes they (attempt to) render visible. By paying attention to sensors as an important part of the material equipment of security practices, this course will unpack sensing as situated practices of constructing, reconfiguring, stabilizing and disrupting in/security. Methodologically, this will be achieved through reading and discussing chapters of the book “Sensing Insecurity: Sensors as transnational security infrastructures” by Nina Klimburg-Witjes, Nikolaus Pöchhacker and Geoffrey C. Bowker (2020), by investigating practices of understanding and analyzing how we “see” sensors in the context of in/security (or how they see us…), but also how we can make sensors visible to ourselves. The course has a strong “hands-on” component, asking from every student to create a visual vignette (we will use the look-book approach outlined in the course) on sensors and in/security with material collected during the seminar.

Assessment and permitted materials

To pass the seminar, students are expected to complete the following tasks:
● Read the all literature listed as obligatory and, if possible, also the suggested readings listed for each scheduled session.
● Write a summary of the readings for each class indicated with an * in the course handout; each reading summary should be about 900 words and include a summary of the texts’ main Arguments and 2-3 questions that link the readings to the theme of the session. Summaries should be uploaded to the Moodle forum two days before each session.
● Participate actively in class discussions and group work.
● Prepare and guide the discussion in one of the seminar units.
● Take 5 pictures figuring sensors / sensing devices in your direct environment (e.g. at home, on your way from home to university, ….) with a short description (approx. 5 lines about place & time, what kind of sensor it shows and why you took the picture); copy the picture into a word document and write the short description below (1 page for each picture + text) and upload the word file(s) to Moodle.
● Produce regular entries into your personal sensors look-book (will be outlined in detail in class; in short: an image plus 400 words reflection which also refers to reading and discussion in class); you have to hand in 4 times 4 look-book entries (details will be further specified in class); the dates to upload them to Moodle are before midnight.
● At the end of the seminar you have to produce your personal plastics look-book: this means ordering the 16 look-book entries you have submitted in the course of the seminar with the aim to create a visual vignette, an 2500 word essay that brings together the images from the look-book, using texts we have read and discussions we had in the seminar.

Minimum requirements and assessment criteria

A minimum of 50 points is necessary to successfully complete the course. Failure to meet the attendance regulations, to deliver course assignments on time or to adhere to standards of academic work may result in a deduction of points.
100-87 points Excellent (1)
86-75 points Good (2)
74-63 points Satisfactory (3)
62-50 points Sufficient (4)
49-0 points Unsatisfactory (5) (fail)

If not explicitly noted otherwise, all requirements mentioned in the grading scheme and the attendance regulations must be met. If a required task is not fulfilled, e.g. a required assignment is not handed in or if the student does not meet the attendance requirements, this will be considered as a discontinuation of the course. In that case, the course will be graded as ‘fail’ (5), unless there is a major and unpredictable reason for not being able to fulfill the task on the student's side (e.g. a longer illness). In such a case, the Student may be de-registered from the course without grading. It is the student’s responsibility to communicate this in a timely manner, and to provide relevant evidence to their claims if necessary. Whether this exception applies is decided by the lecturer.
If any requirement of the course has been fulfilled by fraudulent means, be it for example by cheating at an exam, plagiarizing parts of a written assignment or by faking signatures on an attendance sheet, the student's participation in the course will be discontinued, the entire course will be graded as ‘not assessed’ and will be entered into the electronic exam record as ‘fraudulently obtained’. Self-plagiarism, particularly re-using own work handed in for other courses, will be treated likewise.
This course uses the plagiarism-detection service Turnitin for larger assignments.

Examination topics

Reading list

Klimburg-Witjes, N., Poechhacker, N, Bowker, G.C.: Sensing In/security: Sensors as Transnational Security Infrastructures. Mattering Press, Manchester. (forthcoming 2020)

Association in the course directory

Last modified: Fr 11.12.2020 10:08