Jennifer R. Whitson

Associate Professor, Stratford/Sociology and Legal Studies
Jennifer R. Whitson

Jennifer Whitson is a sociologist who researches the secret life of software, the people who make it, and how both change our daily lives. Her current projects centre on digital media incubators, indie game makers, and on the surveillance implications of data-driven design, respectively

She's particularly interested in the shifting production models of the global game industry, and tracing how risk management practices, data mining, and digital distribution shape developers' creative work and the larger cultural role of games. 

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, her work on gamification traces how governance and control are designed into games, smartphones, and websites, and how playful rationalities are used to shape user behaviour and thus govern through freedom and pleasure rather than fear and risk.

Most recently, she is conducting ethnographic work inside game studios and with developer communities to learn about the struggle for new media producers to find a balance between creative work and economic sustainability, asking "In a 'sharing' community where most digital products like games are low-cost/free, how do we do what we love while still managing to pay the rent?"

Courses taught

  • GBDA 302: Global Digital Project 2, Winter 2015, 2016


  • PhD (Sociology), Carleton University, 2013
  • MA (Sociology), University of Alberta, 2006
  • BA (Criminology), University of Alberta, 2004

Research and teaching interests

  • Game Studies
  • Software Studies
  • Surveillance Studies
  • Digital Media Studies

Selected publications

  • 2015 - Whitson, Jennifer R. "Foucault's Fitbit: Governance and Gamification." In S. Walz and S. Deterding (Eds.), The Gameful World.  Boston MA: MIT Press.  p. 339-358.

  • 2015 - Deterding, S., Cooper, S., Canossa, A., Nacke, L. E., Harteveld, C. & Whitson, J. "Gamifying Research: Strategies, Opportunities, Challenges, Ethics". CHI 2015: Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems. New York: ACM Press. p. 2421-2424.

  • 2014 - Whitson, Jennifer R., and Simon, Bart. "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).

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

  • 2013 -  Greenspan, Brian and Whitson, Jennifer R. "Whether to Play or Preserve the Past?: Creating The Forgotten Worker Quest". In Foundations of Digital Games. (Chania, Crete, May 14-17, 2013). New York, NY: ACM. 

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

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


Awarded Research Grants

  • 2016 - University of Waterloo Gender Equity Research Grant 
  • 2016 - Co-Investigator, SSHRC Insight Development Grant (2016-2018). "Indie Interfaces: Examining Independent Game Development Support Networks".
  • 2015 - Co-Investigator, SSHRC Partnership Grant, "ReFiguring Innovation in Games".

Awards and honours

Presenations and exhibitions

  • 2015 - Whitson, Jennifer R. "Re-appropriating Big Data: Independent Developers' Strategic Use of Analytics". Presented July 13 at IAMCR 2015. International Association for Media and Communication Research Conference. Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

  • 2015 - Whitson, Jennifer R. "Voodoo Software: An Ethnography of Intern Developers". Presented June 5 at CSA 2015. Canadian Sociological Association Meeting at Congress. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

  • 2015 - Whitson, Jennifer R. "Indie Imposters: Narratives of Failure and Success". Presented June 5 at CGSA 2015. Canadian Game Studies Association Meeting at Congress. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

  • 2015 - Whitson, Jennifer R. "Games of Risk: Making Sense of Data Analytics in Culture Industries". Presented November 6 at the Big Data and Risk Workshop. Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. 

  • 2015 - Whitson, Jennifer R. "Play/Data/Addiction:  Gamifying the management of health risk". Presented November 23 at the Identity, Privacy and Security Institute Annual Seminar Series. University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

  • 2015 - Whitson, Jennifer R. "The Body as Factory and Playground: Surveillance, Risk and Labour in Quantified Self and Gamification Movements". Presented November 13 at Every Step You Take: Art and Society in the Data Age. Dortmund, Germany.

  • 2015 - Whitson, Jennifer R. "Risk, Reward, and Addiction: How gamification compels us to gamble with our lives" Presented June 8 at the Summer Interactive Symposium: Raising the Virtual Stakes at Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. 

  • 2015 - Whitson, Jennifer R. "All Play and No Work: The Quantified Us". Presented January 30 at Transmediale Festival: Capture All. Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany.


  • Association of Internet Researchers
  • DiGRA (Digital Games Research Association)
  • IGDA (International Game Developers Association)
  • Surveillance Studies Network
  • Canadian Sociological Association

Community involvment

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 Cybersecurity and Privacy Steering Committee.

Connect with Jennifer

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  519-888-4567 ext. 30259

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 PAS 2025 / DMS 2014

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Curriculum Vitae