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Omniscient organizations and bodily observations: electronic surveillance in the workplace

Ann Marie Wood (University of California, Berkeley)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 1 June 1998



Explores the extent of employee surveillance in the western world and queries why the USA uses surveillance measures to a greater extent than other developed nations. Suggests that American managers choose surveillance methods which include the control of workers’ bodies in the production process. Lists the batteries of tests and monitoring to which US employees can now be subjected – including searching employee computer files, voice/e‐mail, monitoring telephone calls, drug tests, alcohol tests, criminal record checks, lie detector and handwriting tests. Notes also the companies which are opposed to worker and consumer privacy rights. Pinpoints the use of surveillance as a means to ensure that employees do not withold production. Reports that employees dislike monitoring and that it may adversely affect their performance and productivity. Argues that Americans like to address complex social problems with technological means, there are no data protection laws in the USA, and that these two factors, combined with the “employment‐at‐will” doctrine, have all contributed to make it possible (and easy) for employers to use technological surveillance of their workforce. Outlines some of the ways employers insist on the purification of workers’ bodies.



Wood, A.M. (1998), "Omniscient organizations and bodily observations: electronic surveillance in the workplace", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 18 No. 5/6, pp. 136-174.




Copyright © 1998, MCB UP Limited

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