Dissertation Abstracts

Risk perception and digital surveillance among American college students

Author: Veronica Moretti, morettivero@gmail.com
Department: Sociology and Business Law
University: Bologna, Italy
Supervisor: Antonio Maturo
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: Italian

Keywords: Risk , Surveillance , American campus , technology
Areas of Research: Risk and Uncertainty , Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty


Introduction: Within each American university campus, a Department of Public Safety (DPS) is designated to send students emails whenever a crime is committed on campus or in the surrounding area. The aim of this service is to provide an adequate awareness of such criminal activity. This PhD research sought to investigate the extent to which information sharing about criminal events through new technology devices (including apps and emails) may alter risk perception and may increase digital surveillance practices in American university campuses. Theoretical framework: Nowadays, digital technologies have expanded the opportunities for people to access and share information (Lupton, 2015) and this condition might lead to see the future much less safe than before (Beck, 1986). The theoretical framework is based on two concepts: risk and surveillance. Hypothesis: My hypothesis is that these crime-alert methods may represent a new and different type of control exercised by the DPS itself. Indeed, reporting criminal incidents through an apparently innocuous service - e-mail - may imply powerful and widespread surveillance. Aside from the selectivity involved in deciding what to communicate or not, crime alerts may give rise to some form of control over the user's perception. Methodology: The sample was composed of American university undergraduates students, as they spend significantly more time on campus than any other student group. The data was collected on two specific campuses. Different research methods were used in the data collection process, and for this reason they are referred to as mixed methods. Specifically, the data was collected through a questionnaire and interviews. Quantitative data collection was carried out both in the traditional way (printed questionnaire) and through an online form done using Qualtrics software. Qualitative techniques were used both in the exploration phase of questionnaire construction and during research. Findings: Some preliminary comments regarding the correlations of variables can be made. First of all, students from the two universities show some different responses, especially in regard to the use of technologies and the degree of conditioning caused by crime alerts. Although they received the same alerts and information, difference were noticed in regard to risk perception and trust in the reporting system between those who classified themselves as belonging to the low income categories and groups that classified themselves as belonging to the mid and upper income categories. The First Gen group (i.e. first college student of the family) had a significantly higher perception of risk than the other groups. Conclusion: In general, this email service focuses on only some types of crime and not on others (e.g. sexual harassment and violence goes largely unreported), and this may reveal a new and different type of control exercised by the universities’ department of public safety. In addition, informing students about criminal incidents through e-mail’s could be perceived powerful and widespread surveillance. This is rarely questioned because purported crime prevention measures are usually seen as more justified than other types of monitoring and information release.