A Self-Fulfilling Cycle of Coercive Surveillance: Workers’ Invisibility Practices and Managerial Justification

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In the past few decades, the growth of surveillance has become a fixture of organizational life. Past scholarship has largely explained this growth as the result of traditional managerial demands for added control over workers, coupled with newly available cheap technology (such as closed-circuit televisions and body-worn cameras). We draw on the workplace resistance literature to complement these views by suggesting that workers can also drive such growth. More specifically, we show that workers under surveillance can feel constantly observed and seen, but also can feel largely unnoticed as individuals by management. This paradoxical experience leads them to interpret the surveillance as coercive and to engage in invisibility practices to attempt to go unseen and remain unnoticed. Management, in turn, interprets these attempts as justification for more surveillance, which encourages workers to engage in even more invisibility practices, thus creating a self-fulfilling cycle of coercive surveillance. Our study therefore offers one of the first endogenous explanations for the growth of surveillance while also isolating unique forms of resistance attached to such surveillance.

Last updated on 04/25/2018