Jennifer R. Whitson

Associate Professor

519-888-4567 x 41259

PhD Sociology (Carleton University)

Profile picture of Jennifer Whitson

MA Sociology (University of Alberta)
BA Criminology (University of Alberta)

Research and Teaching Areas

Research areas include:

  • Sociology, Culture, and Economics of Software Production
  • Game Industry and Studio Studies
  • Surveillance Studies
  • Incubators, Accelerators and Venture Labour

Teaching areas include:

  • Game Studies
  • Surveillance, Governance & Regulation
  • Sociology of Digital Culture, Media & Communications

I teach in the Sociology and Legal Studies Department here at Waterloo, but also at the Stratford School. I supervise students working in Surveillance Studies, Game Studies, and Goverance & Digital Media., 

Current Research

I study the secret life of software: the technologies we use every day but often take for granted, and the people who make these technologies possible. Most of the time I study games and play.

I'm particularly interested in the shifting production models of the global game industry, and tracing how risk management practices, datamining, and digital distribution shape developers' creative work and the larger cultural role of games. Predominantly, I carry out ethnographic work inside game studios.

I use the example of the game industry to show how the design, deployment, and use of communication software is shaped by economic, social, technological and political concerns, which then create certain constraints and affordances in how people can use these technologies. For example, some of my work on gamification traces how governance and control are designed into games, smartphones, and websites, and how playful rationalities are used to shape use behaviour and thus govern through freedom rather than fear and risk.

Research Grants

  • 2016 - University of Waterloo Gender Equity Research Grant
  • 2016 - Co-Investigator, SSHRC Insight Development Grant ($74, 412). "Indie Interfaces: Examining Independent Game Development Support Networks" with Dr. Felan Parker and Dr. Bart Simon.
  • 2015 - Co-Investigator, SSHRC Partnership Grant, ($2,498,116), "ReFiguring Innovation in Games".

Selected Publications

Whitson, Jennifer. R. and Haggerty, Kevin D. (2015). "Stolen Identities". In J. Savirimuthu (Ed.), Ashgate Library of Essays on Law and Privacy. Volume 3: Security and Privacy. (Reprint of article appearing originally in 2007 in Criminal Justice Matters).

Whitson, Jennifer R. (2015). "Foucault's Fitbit: Governance and Gamification." In S. Walz and S. Deterding (Eds.), The Gameful World. Boston MA: MIT Press.

Whitson, Jennifer R., and Simon, Bart. (2014). "Game Studies meets Surveillance Studies at the Edge of Digital Culture: An Introduction to a special issue on Surveillance, Games and Play”. Surveillance & Society, 12(3).

Whitson, Jennifer R. (2013). "Gaming the Quantified Self". Surveillance & Society. Special Issue on Surveillance Futures 11(1/2).

Whitson, Jennifer. R. (2013). "The Console Ship is Sinking and What this Means for Indies". Loading…The Journal of the Canadian Game Studies Association, 7(11): 123-130.

Dormann, Claire, Whitson, Jennifer R., and Neuvian, Max. (2013). "Once More with Feeling: Design patterns for affective play". Games & Culture 8(4): 215-237.

Whitson, Jennifer R., and Dormann, Claire. (2011). "Social Gaming for Change: Facebook Unleashed". First Monday 16(10).

Whitson, Jennifer R. (2010). "Rule Making and Rule Breaking: Game Development and the Governance of Emergent Behaviour". Fibreculture, 16.

Whitson, Jennifer R. (2010). "Surveillance and Democracy in the Digital Enclosure". In K. D. Haggerty and M. Samatas (Eds.), Surveillance and Democracy. Oxford: Routledge. p. 231-246.

Whitson, Jennifer R. & Haggerty, Kevin. D. (2008). "Identity Theft and the Care of the Virtual Self". Economy and Society 37:572 - 594.

Whitson, Jennifer R., and Doyle, Aaron. (2008). “Second Life and Governing Deviance in Virtual Worlds”. In S. Leman-Langlois (Ed.), Technocrime: Technology, Crime, and Social Control. Cullompton, Devon: Willan Publishing, p. 88-111.

Selected professional activities and networks

In the games industry, I work with small studios and indie
game-makers, many of them from Execution Labs and the
IndieMegabooth. Before I moved, I volunteered in provincial and
federal correctional institutions for more than half a decade.

At the University of Waterloo, I am an executive board member of
the Games Institute ( , a faculty advisor for the publication, FirstPersonScholar (, and a member of the University's Cybersecurity and Privacy Steering Committee.