Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

New Means of Workplace Surveillance From the Gaze of the Supervisor to the Digitalization of Employees by Ivan Manokha, Monthly Review An Independent Socialist Magazine (Feb 01, 2019)

In the last twenty years or so, workplace surveillance has attracted a great deal of attention from academics and the mainstream media.1 This is explained by the proliferation of new electronic means of workplace surveillance, which are increasingly adopted by employers. It is now possible to track the movements of employees, record their conversations, register and analyze their performance in real time, and use biometric information for identity and access control, just to name a few examples. Most existing academic analyses of these developments emphasize how new surveillance technologies have enhanced the capacity of employers to monitor employees, often undermining various labor rights, particularly workers’ rights to privacy and equal treatment.2 In different media outlets—including some of the most influential ones, such as the Financial Times, New York Times, BBC, CBS, and Week—discussions of new surveillance technologies have also focused on the increased invasion of employee privacy.3 Most discussions in this area additionally addressed workers’ rights, including the right to privacy and to be free from discrimination.4


In his early studies, Michel Foucault examined how the architectural design of institutions, like asylums and hospitals, spatially distribute individuals and organize a field of visibility, giving the watchers the power to scrutinize and control the behavior of the watched (patients, workers, prisoners, etc.) and to punish those whose behavior violates the established rules.6 In Discipline and Punish and some of his later writings and lectures, Foucault shows that the nature of power in such institutions is not limited to a power of repression, but also involves the creation of “docile bodies” as the watched, aware that they are under constant surveillance, internalize the existing norms and behave in the required manner without coercion—that is, they exercise power over themselves.7

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