Gary Kafer

Cohort Year: 2016
Research Interests: Surveillance studies; media materialism; theories of race, gender, and sexuality; contemporary art; biopolitics
Education: MA, Humanities, University of Chicago (2015); BA, Visual Studies and Cinema Studies, University of Pennsylvania (2014)


Gary Kafer is a PhD candidate in Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. His dissertation, "After Ubiquity: Surveillance Media and the Technics of Social Difference in Twenty-First Century United States," interrogates the concept of ubiquity as the premiere technological and aesthetic formation of surveillance within contemporary American society and in its transnational reach. While ubiquity is often evoked to discuss how surveillance technologies are universally pervasive within digital networks, After Ubiquity argues that this concept glosses over the ways that surveillance is experienced as differentiating violences within projects of racial capitalism, neoliberalism, and American exceptionalism. Put differently, rather than a description of the expansive reach of surveillance in contemporary society, ubiquity instead is driven by the operation of social difference as a technics that mediates affects and bodies within dense nodal points of national power. Each chapter focuses on a specific phenomenon that we presume to be ubiquitous by nature –weather, play, electromagnetism, and DNA – in order to demonstrate how they in fact enable various surveillance technologies to differentially target identities and populations. Through an archive including federal documents, scientific studies, industrial reports and promotional materials, contemporary artwork, and popular film, television, and video games, After Ubiquity ultimately gestures to new conceptual models upon which community-based resistance practices might engage in emergent media systems.

Gary is co-editor of a special issue of Surveillance & Society on “Queer Surveillance.” His research has appeared in Surveillance & Society, American LiteratureContemporaneityqui parleDigital Culture & Society, and Jump Cut, as well as in the edited collection From Self-Portrait to Selfie: Representing the Self in the Moving Image (Peter Lang, 2019). His work is forthcoming in the journal Media Practice & Education, the edited volume Queer Data (University of Washington Press) and the edited handbook A Companion to Contemporary Art in a Global Framework (Wiley Blackwell).

Gary is a Franke Institute for the Humanities Residential Dissertation Completion Fellow for the 2022-2023 academic year. In 2021, Gary received the Stuart Tave Teaching Fellowship to support the design of his own undergraduate course, “Surveillance Media.” Gary is also a recipient of a Humanities Without Walls Fellowship (2016-18) and Arts, Science + Culture Initiative Fellowship (2019-20). He has been a Preceptor for the Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellowship summer program since 2021 and has worked at the Smart Museum of Art as an Academic Engagement Graduate Intern from 2019-2022.


Teaching Experience

  • Surveillance Media (TAVE Fellowship course, cross-listed with Media Arts and Design), Lecturer - Autumn 2021
  • Film and the Moving Image, Lecturer - Autumn 2020
  • CMS Undergraduate Preceptor - AY 2019-2020
  • Advanced Seminar, Preceptor - Autumn 2019
  • Sound / Image Mapping, CA - Winter 2019