University of Toronto Researchers Receive Major Mellon Foundation Award

August 29, 2022 by Sonja Johnston

Sawyer Seminar 2023—Evasion: Thinking the Underside of Surveillance

"We are thrilled,” said Professor Kevin Lewis O’Neill. “The Sawyer Seminar is a boon for the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies and, in general, for the University of Toronto.” Professor Kamari Clarke added: “Yes, and we look forward to a full year of critical conversations with our colleagues, students and various Toronto publics.” Professors O’Neill and Clarke recently secured this prestigious grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, which provides up to $225,000 USD for a year of programming. This will include a postdoctoral fellow, an author-in-residence, funding support for graduate students and a steady stream of events and workshops.

The theme of the awarded Sawyer Seminar is “Evasion: Thinking the Underside of Surveillance.” Their insight is that surveillance today is ubiquitous and scholars have rightly tracked the innumerable ways in which we watch each other. There is, however, an unexplored underside to this era of tracking and capturing this data: a story of evasion. How do people and institutions (for better, for worse) make themselves illegible and thus ungovernable? The yearlong Sawyer Seminar will pursue this question through the broad thematics of data, law and finance. Each of these threads will extend the study of evasion beyond the typical ambit of surveillance studies and its now overly fixed focus on Europe and North America.  They will cast new light on a quickly evolving, global contemporary field of contestation that encompasses protest movements, migration, the criminal justice system, data studies and more, while also shifting the terms of the academic study of power and governance.

Kevin Lewis O’Neill, Professor, A&S Study of Religion and Director, Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies

Kevin Lewis O’Neill is the Director of the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies and Professor in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. A cultural anthropologist, his work focuses on the moral dimensions of contemporary political practice in Latin America. O’Neill has written several books on the politics of Pentecostalism in Guatemala City – City of God (University of California Press, 2010); Secure the Soul (University of California Press, 2015); and Hunted (University of Chicago Press 2019) as well as a bilingual photography book titled Art of Captivity / Arte del Cautiverio (University of Toronto Press, 2020) with Benjamin Fogarty-Valenzuela. O’Neill is currently writing a book supported by a 2021 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. It considers clerical sexual abuse in Latin America, with a focus on U.S. priests who moved (or were moved) to Central America to evade suspicion and, at times, prosecution..

Kamari Maxine Clarke, Professor, A&S Criminology &  Sociolegal Studies, Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies

Kamari Clarke is the Distinguished Professor of Transnational Justice and Sociolegal Studies and scholar of critical legal studies, religious nationalism and the politics of race, inequality and globalization. She has spent her career exploring questions concerning culture and power and detailing the relationship between them and contemporary problems.  Clarke’s most recent research has explored the complexities of geospatial technologies and crowd sourcing as well as the challenges these raise, especially as a way to ponder crises of knowledge, evidence and truth. She has published nine books (3 monographs and 6 edited volumes) with over 50 peer-refereed journal articles and book chapters. She is the recipient of the 2019 Royal Anthropological Institute’s Amaury Talbot Book Prize, as well as the 2019 finalist for the Elliot Skinner book award for her latest book. Clarke is also a recipient of a Distinguished Chair in Transnational Justice sand Socio-legal Studies and of the 2021 Guggenheim Prize for career excellence.