My Top (not just Science-) Fiction of the Year 2021

I read a lot of fiction this year, as usual, and most of it wasn’t SFF at all! If that’s what you’re interested in, you can skip the first three paragraphs here and scroll straight down…

In more mainstream writing, my favourite thing was undoubtedly The Copenhagen Trilogy by Tove Ditlevsen, consisisting of Childhood, Youth, and Dependency, this is a sparse but evocative, no-holds-barred and banally shocking series of creative non-fiction about growing up poor but with ambitions to be a writer in the 1930s: although it’s memoir, it’s written in highly fictionalized manner, in terms of technique and editing choices. Published in Danish from 1967-71, but only translated into English in 2019, it is brilliant and clearly the precursor to a lot of intimate and exploratory feminist confessional works that have come after.

In crime, I worked my way through the entirety of the mostly very strong, Sicily-set, Montalbano series by the late Andrea Camilieri, and all of Ellis Peters’ atmospheric, mediaeval Cadfael books. But quite the best thing I read this year in this genre was The Stockholm Trilogy (Clinch, Down for the Count, and Slugger) by Martin Holmén. Published in English from 2015 to 2017, this trilogy is one of the most bleak crime series I’ve read. Also set in the 1930s, this is a Stockholm that is as far from contemporary wealthy, socially democratic Sweden as you can imagine, the protagonist Harry Kvist, is a brutal, permanently broke, none-too-bright, could-have-been-a-contender ex-boxer, who makes a living as a second-rate debt collector and accidental, third-rate private eye. He’s also queer and likes it rough. He’s hardly sympathetic, but the only thing in his favour is that most of the people he encounters are worse than him.

My Top 5 favourites in crime, published in 2021, were:

  1. Tokyo Redux, by the consistently excellent David Peace. Published this year, this is the long-awaited final book in The Tokyo Trilogy (the first two being Tokyo Year Zero and Occupied City) of meandering fictional investigations of real crimes that took place in the aftermath of WW2 in the US-occupied Japanese capital. This is far more than a crime novel, and has nothing to do with any of the usual formulas. The characters are all horribly flawed and the racism and casual brutality of the occupiers, the police and criminal gangs is seedy, sweaty and right in your face. The language is also stunning, making superlative use of repetition, although it is not quite as incantatory and magical as in Occupied City. Now resident in Japan, I think Peace may be one of Britain’s greatest living novelists
  2. The Assistant, by Kjell Ola Dahl. Like his previous standalone novel, The Courier, this one is a hisorical crime novel set in 1920s and 30s Oslo (that’s the complete set of Scandanavian capitals in the 1930s!), with the threat of the Nazis hanging over Europe. It’s highly influenced by Raymond Chandler in terms of tone and the convoluted plot, but for once, unlike so many others that stray into pastiche, Chandler’s influence a good thing.
  3. Fallen Angels, by Gunnar Staelsen. Varg Veum, Staelsen’s Bergen-based, social worker-turned PI is not always a pleasant character, and in this one, the latest to be translated but actually a late 1980s entry in the series, we get a load of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, but of the grimy, small town, provincial kind. As usual it’s also personal, involving an ex-wife and so-called friends from his past, who were all once involved in a ‘legendary’ local band, The Harpers. There are the usual reflective moments when Veum wonders what he was thinking / what he is doing – and it’s these as much as the investigation that makes this series so strong.
  4. Silent Parade by Keigo Higashino. Number 4 in the Detective Galileo series, in which DCI Kusanaga of the Tokyo police is leant a hand, once again, by Professor Yukawa (who the media has decided should be called ‘Detective Galileo’, because he’s a physics professor). This one deals with crimes old and new that may or may not be linked and it’s enjoyably twisty with a great cast of characters. However, I really do want Higashino to get back to his Detective Kaga series, which I think I prefer to this one.
  5. Walter Mosley’s Blood Grove didn’t quite live up to the very high standards I expect from this author. It is a fun read with plenty of action, and the usual insightful historical-sociological observations, but come the early 70s, Mosley’s Easy Rawlins seems to be increasingly living in some kind of hallucinatory fantasy version of Los Angeles, rather than (just) the real place. Maybe if you can remember it, you weren’t there, man…

Okay, so here is the SFF list that most of you will have been waiting for! I read a lot of older SF this year: interesting finds included D.G. Compton’s The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe, in which a dying woman in a world that largely does not know death, is placed under continuous surveillance for public entertainment. It did drag for a while but picked up in the final sequences: it is an essential surveillance novel. I also (re-)read several Robert Silverberg novels, and I enjoyed Poul Anderson’s time-travel classic, There Will Be Time, although I found the treatment of young female characters a bit creepy.

This is my Top 10 best SFF books of the year. Bear in mind that there are still many things I haven’t read yet, so if there’s something not here that you think should be, chances are I just haven’t got around to it yet

  1. The Actual Star by Monica Byrne. In many ways, I felt the spirit of Ursula Le Guin hovering over many of the things I read this year, this one included. Weaving together three stories set in 1012, 2012 and 3012 (in the western calendar), this superb novel deals with themes of environmental collapse, gender and sexuality, utopia, and indigeneity, amongst other things, with the stories united by Mayan cosmology and characters, and the significance of a small area of Belize (which I happen to have visited a long time ago).
  2. Notes from a Burning Age by Claire North. Another post-environmental collapse novel, this one by the pseudononymous author of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (which I loved). This deals with the challenges that any stable, post-climate change society will inevitably face from fascists and expansionists who have chosen to forget why there are limits. The main character is a spy who gets incredibly badly-treated for most of the novel and it can be hard-going at times, although it is also redemptive.
  3. Like her earlier work, Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor’s typically powerful Remote Control can also be hard-going, not for the writing which is as skillful as ever, or the setting in a alt / near-future Nigeria, but simply for the difficulty of being in the skin / head of the protaganist, a young girl who has, through an encounter with some kind of alien technology, acquired the power of death. Her journey is marked, as a result, by almost continuous destruction and suffering, which even when it is ‘deserved’ is deeply troubling. Okorafor never lets you turn away and this is an unflinching short novel that should make you think a lot about technology, capitalism and colonialism, and which will haunt you long after you have finished it.
  4. Jeff Noon continued on his idiosyncratic way this year with Within Without. The latest of his existential SF detective series featuring John Nyquist takes place in the city of Delerium, which is fractured by a thousand borders, all of which have to be traversed in different ways and whose thousands of micro-states all have different qualities and rules. It is somewhat reminscent of China Miéville’s The City and The City, but like Creeping Jenny, the previous novel in the Nyquist series, this one has a retro-British feel. Howecer, rather than Wicker Man-type rural horror, this one has the specifically tired, postwar ambience of 1950s London, centred around the lost (sentient!) image of rock’n’roll star, Vince Craven, and the gritty world of popular entertainment.
  5. Klara and the Sun, by (we have to say this now) the Nobel-Prize-winning, Kazuo Ishiguro, is about robots. Klara, Ishiguro’s robot, is also sentient, but in the limited way of a prodigious 5-year-old child. ‘She’ is bought by a family to be a companion to their daughter, who grows up with her then away from her. Klara’s consciousness is centred around a solar mythology, a useful mythology because she is powered by the sun. Like many of Ishiguro’s works, this book is suffused by sadness and things are never quite as the protagonists’ believe. It’s not his best, but that’s relative!
  6. A Master of Djinn by P. Djélì Clark is a rip-roaring steampunk-meets-Arabic mythology adventure, the first full length novel (after two excellent novellas) featuring the estimable, Fatma el-Sha’award, investigator for the Cairo division of Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, lover of finely tailored suits, and fine women. It’s this latter quality plus the defiant anti-colonialism of the plot which presumably caused one dim reviewer to claim the book was ruined by “woke virtue signalling” – ha ha! Well, if you like your “woke virtue signalling” with added angels, djinn, secret societies, over-elaborate weapons and threats to the world as we (don’t) know it, then you’ll love this. I did.
  7. Becky Chambers’ A Psalm for the Wild Built, is also about robots, the first of a new series (Monk and Robot), and is SF balm for the soul. It is a beautiful, meandering, throughtful novel which follows an errant monk in a utopian world, where robots long ago disappeared into the wilderness promising to ‘check in’ some time, who discovers his new mission in an encounter with a ‘wild-built’ robot. Nothing much happens, but it happens wonderfully (but see also my Disappointments of the Year, below).
  8. Tade Thompson’s Far from the Light of Heaven is a really strong locked room murder-mystery set on a supposedly infallible AI-driven spaceship. Among other things, it features a selfish tech multi-billionaire (take your pick of who they could be modelled on…), a troubled investigator, a Nigerian-run space-station… oh, and a wolf. I couldn’t help comparing this to Mur Lafferty’s Six Wakes, and it stands the comparison very well, although perhaps it isn’t such a virtuoso effort as Thompson’s Wormwood Trilogy (Rosewater et al.). But, if you will go setting such high standards…
  9. Finally, two sequels. The first was Invisible Sun, by Charles Stross, which wrapped up his dimension-skipping Merchant Princes sequence nicely (for now), but with maybe a little too much backgrounding / info-dumping for my tastes. Still, I liked this recent trilogy enough that I went back and read the whole sequence from the start, and it hangs together like almost no other decades-spanning project in SFF. As a complete work, it is an amazing achievement.
  10. Finally, there was Nicky Drayden’s Escaping Exodus: Symbiosis. Nicky Drayden appears to be a bit of niche author, but she should be much more widely read. This novel tied up the themes developed in Escaping Exodus very well, with a satisfying resolution to the question of whether our protagonists can live sustainably, and without cruelty and destruction, inside the gigantic spacefaring beetles which they have colonized / infested. The parallels with our dilemmas on Earth are obvious, are here we back with same themes as Monica Byrne and Claire North (and Le Guin) in all ways, with fluid gender and sexual identities and the difficulties of building utopia.

Finally, I have to say there were some disappointments this year. In crime, I had been really looking forward to Andrea Camilleri’s Riccardino, the final Montalbano novel. But it turned out that it wasn’t really the final novel sequentially, it was a manuscript from a while back that Camilleri had written, it seems, as a bit of an experiment and to express some frustrations, and then put aside. Now published post-mortem, it uses the gimmick which Camilleri had already played with in a short-story of having the detective realise he’s in a story and able to communicate with the author. This is just tiresome and undermines the story, which itself isn’t up to much anyway and is mostly a kind of broad religious farce, far more like Camilleri’s historical writing than the rest of the sequence. This isn’t the only bad Montalbano novel, but it is a unworthy memorial to a fine writer.

In SFF, I was highly recommded to read S.B. Divya’s Machinehood. The author is someone I admire as an editor and the themes seemed interesting, but I just couldn’t get very far into it due to the unengaging writing and what seemed to be a story that consisted mostly of people running and shooting. This isn’t any kind of definitive view because I not only did I not finish it (very unusual for me), I barely started it, so maybe I’ll try again sometime.

And then there was Becky Chambers. She’s on my Top 10 (see above), but she also wrote another novel, The Galaxy and the Ground Within, which is set in the Wayfarers universe and to which I had a very different reaction. I have loved all of the previous novels in this sequence, but here Chambers seems to be pushing the envelope of her general inclination to produce ‘nice’, positive, relationship-centred SF, with a novel that has no plot of speak of, characters who have quirks rather than qualities, and where everything is solved by cake (no, I mean this quite literally). It’s so sugar-sweet that it should come with a health warning, and so twee that it makes me cringe just thinking about it. Nothing much happens, but you really start to wish for a comet to come, or an intergalactic war, or even just some mild peril. It’s one thing to want to provide a counterbalance to all that dark and dystopian SF, but utopianism still needs intelligence and interest and, not to mention, drama: see Ursula Le Guin’s Always Coming Home, or yes, Becky Chambers’ other work. There’s a line somewhere between the optimistic and wholesome vibe of the rest of the Wayfarers sequence, or indeed the gentle thoughtfulness of A Psalm for the Wild Built, and the relentless, insufferable kitsch of The Galaxy and the Ground Within. No more cake for me, thank-you.

My Top 5 Academic Books of 2021

I’ve bought a lot of books this year and read… many of them. Almost all of them were not, directly speaking, surveillance books. I’m a bit bored of surveillance and privacy books at this point. That’s no reflection on my colleagues, just that I’ve been off in other places. I’ve been reading a lot about planetarity and extraplanetarity (space!), and I’ve been going back to reading more environmental writing. This used to be my field (I have an MSc in environmental management) and I used to teach in this area, as well as having been an eco-activist for many years. I’m trying to put surveillance, environmental and (extra)planetarity together in various ways right now and these are the things that have been making me think.

  1. My favourite book, by a long way, was David Graeber and David Wengrow’s The Dawn of Everything (Signal, 2021). Completed just before Graeber’s untimely death which robs us of one of our most free-ranging and unencumbered thinkers, this books challenges almost everything we thought we knew about why things are the way they are and how they got this way. The first chapter on how indigenous North American thinkers influenced the enlightenment is stunning enough in itself, but each chapter that follows brings rigorously contrarian arguments, which take down the superficial approaches of populist writers (like Harari and Pinker et al.) along the way.
  2. I read two books on extraterritoriality and space this year and they are both in my Top 3. Daniel Deudney’s extraordinary Dark Skies (Oxford, 2020) is the weightier and more theoretically dense, but no less enthralling and a real kick-in-the-teeth for the Elon Musks of this world who think we can live on Mars.
  3. Much shorter and more fun, but still highly enlightening, is Fred Sharmen’s Space Forces (Verso, 2021), which offers a breezily-written history of how we have understood the possibility of life in space, as well as how it has been tried so far.
  4. Peter Drahos comes from a totally different background to me (Business / Management), but his book, Survival Governance (Oxford, 2021) offers a challenging argument on how the solution to the climate crisis will have to come from the Chinese state – or humanity as a whole will have no future. It’s not a blame-thesis: Drahos is simply acknowledging the dual political and economic power that the Chinese empire will have in the coming century: if nothing more radical happens in the meantime (see below…), China will be the only major power able to direct the transformation that is needed, whatever we think about China otherwise.
  5. Alternatively, a bracing little manifesto, How to Blow Up a Pipeline, from Andreas Malm (Verso, 2021) suggest a more direct approach. This reminded me of where I came from and what we may need to do, sooner rather than later, in the emergency in which we now find ourselves.

Finally, my bonus read was the long overdue reissue of the one of the most important founding works in surveillance studies, Oscar Gandy’s The Panoptic Sort (Oxford, 2021). Gandy is of course well-known within surveillance studies and has already been recognised with the Outstanding Contribution Award by the Surveillance Studies Network, but is only now being rediscovered outside as a precursor of almost all the work on algorithmic and data bias, ethics and accountability – and this by a scholar of colour in the early nineties. The new edition is enhanced by a new introduction and afterword by Oscar, who remains one of the most delightful, as well as insightful, people who I have met in academia.

There were also some really disappointing and bad books I read this year, but the less said about them, the better…

Climate and the Working Academic

Part of the (re)growing night train network in Europe

I’ve been a environmental activist since I was in my teens. I stood for the Green Party as a student, I was a direct action activist against road-building, illegal logging on Indigenous lands, and much more. I’ve never learned to drive a car, and that was entirely deliberate. We built a Passive House, and are aiming at a net-zero life (you can read more about that here).

But there is one aspect of my life as a working academic that is difficult to reconcile with this, and that is flying. Air travel is one of the worst sources of greenhouse gasses and it’s even worse because the emissions occur higher in the atmosphere. And yet, academics fly a lot. Partly this is about conferences – scholarly associations do love to have their events scattered all over the world – but partly it’s about research – we have to go to places to do observation, interviews etc. etc. – don’t we?

Well, perhaps not. Or perhaps we are not being imaginative enough. The pandemic has shown that many smaller seminars and workshops can happens perfectly well via the internet, and with VR, that’s only going to improve. I don’t think our Surveillance Studies Centre seminars, which have been entirely virtual this year, have been worse, indeed we’ve been able to invite people from further afield than we would normally do. I’d also argue that a lot of more distant research visits could be replaced by a combination of internet connection and on-the-ground work carried out via partnerships with local researchers.

I don’t think we can replace the magic of face-to-face interaction and chance meeting and discussion entirely. But we can minimise the environmental damage we do. A lot of this is strcutural and therefore it is a matter for funding agencies, scholarly associations and universities. We should be seeing research funding taking into account excessive travel proposals when evaluating grant applications etc.

But I think it is also necessary that we take personal action, especially those of us who in the most priviledged academic positions. My personal climate pledge is this: I will take no more than one long-haul return flight a year from now on –– forever. I’m not going to be doing lots of short-haul flights either –generally speaking, I will take none– but I do leave open the possibility that I would take one very occasionally.

This is ‘inconvenient’ but it just means I have to take decisions about what I do, when, and where I go. For example, I know the Surveillance & Society / Surveillance Studies Network Conference is every two years, in Europe. This means I can plan for a month-long conference / research and friends and family visit trip in 2022: I’ll be doing 4 conferences (ICA – Paris, SSN – Rotterdam, EuroS&P – Genoa, Beyond Smart Cities – Malmo), a mountain marathon in Leichenstein, and visiting family & friends in the UK, all by train (mainly night trains) and ferry. 2023 will have to be a family trip to Japan, but could also involve a significant research visit.

If I’m invited anywhere else overseas outside of this, I will either insist on virtual presentation or if that is not possible, I will just turn it down. I’ve been working out how to get to places I might need to go in Canada and the USA. It’s possible to get to most major cities by train. You just have to accept it’s going to to take longer, but since you can work on trains, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and the worst part of it is generally the Canadian elements: Canada desperately needs to invest in its railways and espcially in frequency and speed. It’s ridiculous that you can’t get to Montreal or Ottawa from Kingston much before midday. Anyway, we’ll find out how well this is going to work when I go to New York by train via Montreal, in April next year.

Now, who’s going to join me?

CFP: 9th Biennial Surveillance & Society / Surveillance Studies Network Conference

The 9th biennial Surveillance & Society conference of the Surveillance Studies Network, hosted by Erasmus University Rotterdam on June 1-3 2022 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.


Emerging blinking into the post-pandemic sunlight, the world’s longest-running surveillance studies conference is back, offering a famously welcoming, constructive atmosphere and three ways forward for thinking about surveillance:

1. TARGETS: Who is under surveillance? How are they affected, protected or harmed? Which individuals, communities or groups benefit and profit from surveillance, and which ones lose and are excluded?

2. TRACKS: How does surveillance happen – technologically, socially, politically, culturally etc.?And how is surveillance governed, controlled, regulated and prevented? What flows and what is blocked? What trajectories are emerging? What possibilities are there for critique, opposition, reform, resistance, struggle and destruction?

3. TRACES: What is left behind?How are trajectories and pathways (re)constructed across individual, collective and societal histories?

These themes will inspire a range of interventions across (sub-)disciplines and approaches. We invite scholars, artists, and practitioners from all backgrounds to engage critically with historical, current and emergent surveillance practices, performances, policies, patterns, plans and proposals, and the various dilemmas, opportunities and ambivalences these represent.


We are delighted to already confirm two superb keynote speakers:

  • Simone Browne, Associate Professor, in the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies University of Texas (US)
  • Elizabeth Joh, Martin Luther King Professor of Law, UC Davis (US)


Organisational, industrial, and commercial visions
  • Surveillance and the workplace
  • Consumption and surveillance
  • Medical surveillance
  • Fraud detection and security
  • Education and monitoring
Viewing transitions
  • Migration and refugees
  • Borders and security
  • Social movements and protests for change
  • Electoral monitoring

Digitally mediated surveillance

  • Algorithms and focused monitoring
  • Drones and security devices
  • Social media platforms
  • Mobile devices, including wearables
  • Internet infrastructures
  • IoT devices
  • Big data analytics
  • Machine-learning
Sensing beyond seeing
  • Critiques of visual metaphors
  • Listening and other kinds of sensing
  • Bodies, biometrics & haptics
  • Affective surveillance
Law, Justice & Surveillance
  • Policing, intelligence and security
  • Surveillance in the courts
  • Surveillance and human rights
  • Privacy and Surveillance
Surveillance and Social Relations
  • Racialization
  • Gender and identity
  • Families and children
  • Households and neighbourhoods
Surveillance culture(s)
  • Surveillance art
  • Performing surveillance
  • Surveillance film and television
  • Writing surveillance
  • Science fiction and dystopian accounts
Politics and Philosophy of Surveillance
  • Surveillance politics
  • Surveillance and social justice
  • Philosophy of Surveillance
  • Ethics and Surveillance
  • Regulations, politics and governance of surveillance

There will also be two sponsored special sessions on the following themes:

Special Sessions: Surveillance and Smart Cities *

The smartification of cities has been the primary concern of many local municipalities. Collecting data from citizens’ movements within the city and interactions with city infrastructure has become increasingly important for municipal planning. Together with technological intermediaries, local governments have implemented a myriad of cameras, sensors, and other data collecting technologies in various urban spaces and contexts. Additionally, cities routinely ask citizens to voluntarily participate by urban smartification measures by donating their own personal data to city data repositories for ongoing analysis. Whether the city actively monitors its citizens or asks for their voluntary participation in urban initiatives, these approaches raise several surveillance and privacy concerns in the smart city. We invite papers that explore the diverse issues of surveillance in smart cities, ranging from its democratic foundations, citizen resistance and participation, post-covid smart city surveillance, stakeholder interests and platform influence, and other related topics.

* Sponsored by the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for BOLD Cities:

Special Sessions: Social implications of AI supported surveillance #

As the adoption of machine-learning algorithms becomes widespread, the impacts of the broad set of technologies commonly labelled as Artificial Intelligence (AI) also pervade an increasing number of contexts, develop new facets, and shift everyday practices. We invite papers that explore the intersections of surveillance and AI, exploring this from a wide range of perspectives, including technical, legal, ethical, and economic considerations, among others, framed within the scope of social impacts. Papers that focus on core research areas of AI in arts and culture, communication and change, health care policy and management and work and labour are of particular interest. The definition of AI for this special session includes not only machine learning algorithms, but also perceptions and popular understandings of Artificial Intelligence and their perceived, potential and actual impacts.

#Sponsored by the Societal Impact of AI Erasmus initiative:

Submission criteria:

Interested conference participants are invited to submit abstracts for this proposal. Due to the limited number of sessions, authors are limited to one first author submission for a paper and organisation of one proposed panel. Authors can be second author on other papers, but should not be the (primary) presenter.

Paper Proposals

Paper sessions will be composed by the Organising Committee based on the individual paper abstracts submitted. Abstracts should consist of:

  • Name(s) of Author(s)
  • Affiliation(s) of Author(s)
  • Proposed Title of Paper
  • An abstract of up to 200 words

For those who are unable to participate in person, selected panels will offer the possibility to present remotely. As there will be limited spaces, applicants will be asked to provide a motivation why they are unable to travel to Rotterdam.

Panel Proposals

Panels are sessions that bring together a group of presenters with contributions on a topic related to the conference themes. The session format should engage the panellists and audience in interactive discussions and preferably represent a diversity of views on the topic. Panels should be designed to fit in a 90-minute session, and feature a minimum of three and maximum of five presentations. Panel Proposals should consist of:

  • Name(s) and email address(es) of Organiser(s)
  • Affiliation(s) of Organiser(s)
  • Proposed Title of Panel including the indication [PANEL] in the title
  • An abstract of up to 350 words, including an explanation of why the panel is of interest to the conference, and the proposed format of the panel.
  • Name(s) and Affiliation(s) of all proposed panellists including a chair. NB: Organisers must secure the agreement of all proposed panellists before submitting the Panel Proposal.

Submission process and information:

All paper and panel proposals should be submitted through the Easy Chair submission system:

For further information, please visit our website at:

If you have any additional questions, please contact us at:

Key dates:

  • December 15, 2021: Submission of individual paper abstracts and conference panels
  • February 15, 2022: Decisions regarding paper and panel proposal acceptance
  • March 15, 2022: Preliminary conference programme available
  • May 1, 2022: Submission of full papers and extended abstracts
  • June 1, 2022: Welcome and opening drinks
  • June 1-3, 2022: Conference is held in Rotterdam

Forthcoming request for artistic submissions

Within this conference, we wish to engage with artists working with various media to enhance our understandings and experiences of surveillance research and contexts. The conference organisers are working with local artists and the SSN Arts Prize Committee to ensure artistic inclusion at SSN 2022. In the coming months, more details about how to participate will be forthcoming.

The conference is organised by the international, interdisciplinary open access journal Surveillance & Society ( and the Surveillance Studies Network, which is a registered charitable company dedicated to the study of surveillance in all its forms, and the free distribution of scholarly information (

The Big News

Well, the big news is that 2021-22, will be my last year at Queen’s University. I’m grateful to all my colleagues and students here from 2009 onwards. But just as it was in 2009, it’s time to move on!

I’m going to be 50 years old next year and I still don’t feel that I have achieved what I want to achieve and having been away from Queen’s since mid-2019 because of sabbatical and then the pandemic, I had the space and time to think, and I realised that I needed a new challenge, a new incentive to force myself to do those things I really want to do. But I didn’t want to leave the island where we live, so my options were pretty limited. I was starting to think of leaving academic, cashing in everything I had and buying a local bookshop.

But then, during that time, I happened across a job that was being advertised at the University of Ottawa. It was in the Department of Criminology, which is not my discipline at all, but then neither was Sociology, or Architecture and Planning, or Rural Economics, or anywhere else I have ever been. What was important was the title, Critical Surveillance and Security Studies, and what they wanted, someone at my level who was ready to step up to full professor and could apply for a Tier 1 CRC. But I don’t have a lot of confidence in myself, so I called someone I knew in the department, one of my favourite people in the world, as it happens, and asked them if I had any chance of getting this job, and they literally screamed down the phone. So maybe I did have a chance! I applied.

Time went by.

Then I was asked to interview. The timing was perfect because I had just realised where my research was going in more concrete ways, and was able to put together a presentation that was really exciting (even to me!). And the interview went about as well as any interview could go.

More time went by. So much time that I had actually started to forget how the presentation and interview went and started to imagine that I had no chance, again.

And then, in the middle of the summer, I came back from a week entirely offline, a week of trail running and swimming up in Algonquin, to find that I had been offered the job.

We don’t need to talk about my negotiating skills, suffice it to say that when I suggested a salary figure they laughed at me and offered me substantially more. I’ll have a suite of offices (or a lab) and I’ll be able to assemble a team to work on the big projects I have in mind, and I’ll actually be able to offer them decent RA-ships, in other words all the things I was told I would be able to do when I got to Queen’s but it turned out that none of that was in writing. It’s in writing this time.

At my age, I don’t have any illusions. There is no academic paradise, especially not in this neoliberal age. But I am excited about the work I want to do again. There will be more about that in future. Hell, I may even start blogging again after a decade…

Maybe you can see my new office from here? The Social Sciences complex at UOttawa