A Double Edged Sword Of Technology Management Essay

Surveillance has been described as a true representation of a double-edged sword of technology. Where as much attention is spent viewing as well as being viewed (Lyon,1994). Therefore the concept of a ‘surveillance society’, first introduced by George Orwell, can be said to have become a central part of the emerging trans-disciplinary narrative of surveillance studies, and is now to be found as much in criminology as in many of the other domains upon which it draws. When considering the idea of surveillance it is easy to imagine why and how it is used in ‘protecting’ society of crime. However, why has electronic surveillance been described as technologies of ‘discursive institutional practices’? (Garrick,1998:81). To examine the relationship between surveillance, power and resistance and how they are extrinsically linked, this essay will consider the work of Michel Foucault’s theory of the panopticon, as both a physical structure and as a metaphor for a technology of power. Focusing more on the latter, by concentrating on the corporate environment considering why some people may come to self-control and others resist, why some people come to feel empowered bringing an emergence of self-identity. All of which, have been supported, and can be explained by Foucault’s idea of the ‘panoptical gaze’. He depicts his ideas as a ‘multiple, automatic, continuous, hierarchical and anonymous power functions in a network of relations form of surveillance in which workers think they are being observed and thus actively behave in ways desired by their organisation’ (1977:175). Therefore, this piece of writing aims, to follow the Foucault’s ideas of surveillance, considering how this brings a sense of power and as to how this power can be challenged through resistance, within typical 21st century low skilled work place settings, illustrating how resistance has re-organised and re-developed.

Michel Foucault’s words, described Jeremy Bentham’s original notion of the panoptican as having ‘invented a technology of power designed to solve the problems of surveillance’ (1980:148). Bentham’s original design principle is based on a circular building with a central surveillance tower, which the prisoners can be seen, whilst the prison guard cannot, yet they can see all areas and prisoners contained in the building (Koskela,2003). The idea of surveillance within the workplace is conceptually the same, a technological solution designed to solve the difficulties of surveillance and control of employees within a working environment. Therefore, people under surveillance are to be seen but, to never know when or by who. Foucault (1977) adapted Bentham’s ideas applying it to wider society to schools and hospitals. Today all areas of society can relate to his ideas from new model housing estates to open plan office spaces, all of which can be said to hold a multi-directional disciplinary gaze. Consequently, Foucault explained how being under duress and control of someone else or something else without physical intervention, by allowing people to believe they are constantly being watched, can ultimately change a person’s inner beliefs and behaviours, as control of their behaviour to that of societies expectations or that of the organisations becomes self-internalised and believed. Some academics have likened culture building and similar technologies as simply management control techniques that purposefully aspire to colonize the identities of employees, to become progressively similar to the person the company desires them to be (Casey,1995). Yet, by manufacturing a culture, organisations attempt to produce a positive identification between the employee and themselves, generally beyond consent, or without realisation of the employee, producing particular ways in which people think and behave. Essentially the successful implementation of a new working culture assumes that employee’s identify fully with the organisation, internalising company practices as their own. Their beliefs and sense of ‘self’ becomes completely influenced and controlled by the employer. Kunda’s (1992) account of how an organisation he called ‘Tech’ successfully appropriated inconceivable amounts of time from their workers as possible, was successful due to the reasoning that workers saw themselves as part of the ‘Tech culture’ which through successful implementation of these mechanisms thought of themselves as Tech employees all of the time, as a result of the embraced belief in the manufactured culture. Kunda also documents how a high number of employees found their home and family life suffered. This highlights the demands and expectations management cultures now place upon individuals, manipulating their employees through the threat of continual coercive control. Carrying a worry of continually being observed and compared to that of others, this idea particularly in an organisational setting becomes even more dominant in the current economic climate, when the worry to maintain employment becomes even stronger.

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Regardless of the certain effectiveness of the continual illusion of management control, peer control seen in teams also contributes to the continual threat of being watched but also empowers employees to become the observer. ‘This chimerical control allows both the vertical control of employees by management through electronic surveillance, and traditional bureaucratic and technological methods of control, and horizontal control obtained through the utilisation of a ‘team’ structure.'(Townsend,2005:48). Peer control occurs as employees uphold an expected level of output, ordained by the group or organisation, which then bring a level of peer pressure from colleagues to maintain tacit behaviour and output, formed through a process of normalisation or cultural control. Teamwork in this manner is often suggested to have a positive impact on employees as each individual performance improves, (Susman&Chase,1986) evoking an increase in morale and labour output. (Harris,1992) Parker et al (1997) refers to the actions of group control as positive role orientation. A large focus within managerial research looking upon resolving the issue of employee resistance, gives huge attention upon restructuring organisations into teams, to gain greater power and control thorough less physical control methods by mangers, yet it increases pressure to conform and comply through fear of letting anyone down. This can be seen in an example taken from a case study of a call centre who was interviewed following managerial change to that of teams, described how it ‘really puts some pressure on you, you know. I can’t let the team down’ (Townsend,2005:51). Illustrating how those, in this example his fellow team members who he now unconsciously perceives to have power, both disciplines and controls him.

Generally teams within a Call centre, support criticisms as they have little control in shaping the amount of work to be completed or the time scale upon it has to be completed. Townsend (2005) agrees with this suggestion indicating that, engineered teams work is still largely ‘directed’ because of the type of work; which is customer service based and completed through incoming calls (Townsend,2005). In addition, the approach commonly found in call centres includes the use of technological systems as the key determinant of task delegation therefore, tasks are usually reduced to their finest form (Taylor,1998). Due to this reason, call centres and other organisations who employs such systems have been likened to manufacturing industry lean production teams, who encourage close managerial power controls (Mulholland,2002).Although, organisations such as fast food restaurants or manufacturing organisations seemingly provide employees with minimal control over their working decisions, in terms of technology, management, governance and client decisions. Korczynski (2001) Suggested management teams devote substantial amount of resources into creating a normative culture where the customer-focus becomes a control measure within itself.

Therefore, peer control can and appears to become a ‘superpanoptican’, whereby managerial power has evolved driving the managed to manage both themselves and others. Simply, the main bene¬ts is increased power controls for the management of that organisation. Conversely, not all academics accept this hypothesis (see for examples Thompson&Findlay,1999;Thompson,2003) suggesting peer groups don’t exist in this way. Contrasting, the theory concerning teams as a means to humanise work and increase levels of job enrichment (Mueller,1994), As the same call centre worker described how he felt he was looking out for his friends, rather than managing them almost generating a caring culture. Following Foucault haven’t team members internalised expected norms to become their own that they no longer recognise it as control, misguiding themselves into believing they have autonomy? Is this not managerial surveillance power at its strongest?

When looking at this seemingly increasing power of surveillance between managers and employees it isn’t difficult to see why some academics have proclaimed the end of work place resistance, due to such high powers of control through surveillance. Casey (1995: p124),suggested that there was ‘few visible efforts at collective counter-cultural or dissent strategies among employees’ to new cultural regimes’…’resistance and opposition are virtually eliminated’ (Casey,1995:175) Equally, Barker (1999) concluded within his research, ‘for the part, the issue [of resistance] was never one the worker really considered’ (Barker,1999:114-5).Organisational behaviour, possibly shouldn’t simply be understood as the result of control and objective imposed on people in organisations, If Foucault’s theory of power controls and processes discussed did occur as well as managerial monitoring through physical and technological surveillance as successful to all employees and organisations as implied, in organisations, resistance could almost be declared as an eliminated factor.

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However, have case studies like these overlooked the type of employee resistance that is now present? Considering, recent research which has suggested a re-evaluation of resistance maybe needed, Vurdubakis’s (1994) advised to avoid the resurrection of resistance reflection of the way it is constituted in language as well as practice, implying that ‘power’ is ‘productive’ of resistance, a notion that is well supported by academics such as Thompson and Ackroyd. ‘Particular exercises of power can therefore be understood in terms of the resistances they generate, confront, ‘manage’ or even promote…The elimination of resistance, in other words, is not a necessary feature of the exercise of power. Nor does resistance deprive relations of power of their opportunities to reconstruct themselves; indeed, it may stimulate technologies of power to reorganize, adapt and multiply.’ (Vurdubakis,1994:179). As the form of management control has evolved and emerged with new approaches and polices, to combat resistance, resistance techniques have also reacted this way to combat control mechanisms.

Moreover, constructing social-demographic groups, through work team technologies. Operates as a control mode in work spaces, promoting identities that are favourable to the organisation, by shunning the behaviour that are somewhat undesired. However, some employees use this team structure to their advantage to resist managerial control. Through promoting identification which is not desired by management through the same logic of influential tactics of peer pressure. . Townsend describes this as a status quo which evolves through teams, giving an example of call centre workers who suggest that, there are a few team members they have to influence sometimes, to understand what the team stands for, as well as going on to say ‘we have to be smart this time…or they [management] will get us’ (Townsend, 2005 p.51) giving the impression if not management will begin to realise employees actions are wrongly intended. Illustrating that the group here identify themselves to be different form how the organisation perceives them. This supports the idea that surveillance techniques need to be maintained continuously they cannot be simply executed they need to be ‘regulated’. In an attempt to regain power and control over their working environment employees may attempt to overturn management agenda’s by appropriation of resources. This view is often likened to the ‘Newtionian’ account of resistance, as a force of motivation can be balanced by an equal and opposite force. In relation to workplace resistance, if workers can identify the force that can be resisted, then all they need to do is push back equally hard.

Strong organisational identities can also become a negative occurrence for an organisation. For example, Friedman (1977) , give captivating accounts of employee resistance, cultivating it as mostly due politically based resistance; in publically organized campaigns aimed at capitalist relations of production. This resistance may reveal itself in many diverse ways manners such as union supported strikes, working to rule, thorough tactics of soldiering, absenteeism, theft or joking rituals (Thompson and Ackroyd, 1999). All actions which derive from the structural mechanism of control through which employees openly clash, demonstrating their unrest with managements motives, Edwards described the workplace as becoming a battleground ‘as employers attempt to extract the maximum effort from workers and workers resist their bosses impositions (1973 p.13). An example of this type of resistance again comes from a call centre worker, giving his account of how he re-appropriates self-autonomy that management has ‘seized’, ‘What we can do is hit transfer but we don’t release the button. So then we are on mute while the customer does the interactive computer processes. And that really gives you three or four minutes. Sometimes I go and have a cup of tea or I go out for a cigarette… I can sit there for 20 minutes if I want to but I don’t push my luck, 10 minutes for a cigarette is plenty. And a call of that length isn’t unusual so it won’t stick out in your stats. You have to think these things through, the last thing I want to do is get caught by being greedy (Townsend, 2005 p.56)

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A similar proposal has been put forward by Edwards et al (1995, p.291) regarding the narrowed account of resistance to overt and organised processes, as he states; ‘The majority of research studies have tended to focus on the visible, explicit and collective oppositional practices such as output restriction… and sabotage.. Most of these studies have also tended to focus primarily upon manual workers in the traditional unionioized manufacturing sectors… Yet there are also many other oppositional practices that are often more subtle, covert and secretive and frequency less collective and organised… The disruptive effects of such oppositional practices should not be under-estimated for in certain cases the ‘mental strike’ or indifference of one individual or the public disclosure of ‘sensitive’ information by a disaffected or ethically motivated employee could be more damaging to management than a strike by an entire workforce.’ Alluding towards the reasoning that as power and surveillance increases upon the managerial side, so does the desire to resist this power by some, in less open outward forms, yet employees are ultimately still appropriating, the object of time, identity, work load and resources. Through mentally distancing themselves from the act of work itself. Ashforth () illustrates this when observing flight attendants, here he notes some don’t believe their role to be themselves, they fight to not identify with their role, yet smiling, acting and responding as they are expected to do, Ashforth () describes them as acting the role of a flight attendant’. This type of resistance has been proposed to generally occur when workers perceive a gap between the promised proposed outcomes and expectations the organisation offered by an organisation and what is delivered. Such as the flight attendants who found the emotions they were expected to demonstrate, when performing their service unnatural and too forced. From this attendants are required to engage in additional train sessions to, sympathise, identify understand their passengers, to generate less emotional resistance to their roles. Overall, Edwards et al(1995) asserted that resistance has two distinctive functions; firstly it permits employees to express any discontent and displeasure. Secondly, resistance enables employees to construct the freedom to implement autonomy, regardless of how limited, therefore increasing their capacity to survive and adapt coercive systems of power.

Direct control, naturally presents a high regulation/ low control structure, was originally intended to enhance the amount of work carried out by employees, achieving exactly this to a sizable extent. Nonetheless, despite the unswerving persistence of these goals through; job design, piecework incentives, close supervision and team working designs, management has established that alternative approaches give growth to an assortment of strategies of practical resistance. Even with constant attention to approaches, employee’s innovative new forms of deviant behaviour which abuse any weakness’s in managerial control, to re-appropriate power and control of their autonomous identity. Continuous destruction, and ‘fight’ has been spoken about as a vicious circle of control, in which want to establish greater control over employees leads to reactions by them that is portrayed as indicating, if not demanding, a need for more control. Considering the relationship between surveillance, power and control illustrates both the challenges faced on both sides, pertains continuous research, into their development and effect.

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