Synoptic Prudentialism

The police, social media, and bureaucratic resistance


  • Michael Charles Adorjan University of Calgary
  • Rosemary Ricciardelli


synopticon, surveillance, prudentialism, police, social network sites


This paper examines police officer perceptions of risk when using (often official police) social media sites. We argue that for police it is not the ‘few observing the many’ model of panoptic surveillance that matters most; rather, it is the synoptic gaze of the ‘many observing the few’ that matters most. We propose a new concept, that of synoptic prudentialism, which we argue involves an individual’s or organization’s reflexive actions and adjustments in response to an acute awareness of ubiquitous social surveillance. Interviews with officers serving in rural areas of an Atlantic Canadian province reveal expressions of vulnerability in relation to potentially antagonist audiences online. Also, from the perspective of front-line officers who express a desire to use social media more informally to connect with online audiences, bureaucratic procedures and other formal regulations governing official police social media use constrains the potential to harness the synoptic gaze in productive ways.

Author Biographies

Michael Charles Adorjan, University of Calgary

Michael Adorjan is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Calgary. His research and teaching centers on youth and ‘technoconnectivity’, including the role of technology in teens’ lives, as well as parental and educator responses. Recent publications address social problems related to youth including cyberbullying, sexting, privacy and ‘online addiction’. His research appears in Learning, Media and Technology, British Journal of Criminology, Theoretical Criminology, Media, Culture & Society, and Canadian Review of Sociology.

Rosemary Ricciardelli

Rosemary Ricciardelli is a Professor and the Coordinator of Criminology in the Department of Sociology at Memorial University of Newfoundland. She is an Associate Director of the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT), where she leads the community and institutional corrections research sector, and a Senior Research Fellow with Correctional Services Canada. Her research appears in British Journal of Criminology, Sex Roles, Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Canadian Review of Sociology and Theoretical Criminology.