The Electronic Panopticon : Organizational Surveillance in Virtual Work

The Electronic Panopticon : Organizational Surveillance in Virtual Work

Shawn D. Long (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA), Richie A. Goodman (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA) and Chase Clow (Arizona State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2010 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-979-8.ch005


This chapter explores the role of surveillance in virtual work. With the modern societal shift as well as the increased global market, working virtually is becoming more necessary and even a requirement at times. With the removal of physical interaction, questions of how to properly ensure productivity arise. This chapter suggests the panopticon, as developed by Bentham (1791) and expounded upon by Foucault (1977), is very influential in the surveillance of virtual activity. This chapter will ultimately explore theoretical underpinnings of the panopticon, work place surveillance, virtual surveillance in practice, ethical issues created by virtual surveillance, and consequences of virtual surveillance.
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Theoretical Framework

Bentham and Foucault’s concept of the panopticon provides a useful framework to ground the discussion of surveillance in the workplace. The panopticon is a prison building developed by Jeremy Bentham, an English philosopher and social theorist in 1785. Bentham (1791) developed the panopticon as an apparent omnipresence for prisoners where the hope was that if prisoners were under constant surveillance, they would behave more appropriately. In Bentham’s prison, a guard tower equipped with venetian blinds was to stand in the center of the windowed cells armed with a guard for surveillance. This constant source of surveillance was hypothesized to produce better behavior from prisoners. Bentham’s ultimate goal was for the guard tower to become a reminder of surveillance so prisoners would begin to practice self surveillance. The threat of the guard would eventually be enough by itself, removing the need for an actual physical presence in the tower. The prisoners’ belief that there was a guard would produce the desired results. Once this process is engrained, the prisoners’ practice of self policing will render a better behaved, productive prison environment.

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