Technologies of the self: Virtual work and the inner panopticon
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Business and Law
School of Management
Purpose: This paper seeks to develop insights into control, power, consent and commitment with virtual knowledge workers who are removed from the immediate sphere of influence of management and co‐workers. Design/methodology/approach: This research is a detailed case study of a highly successful Scandinavian engineering company. A post‐structuralist approach is used to understand how the modes of influence on knowledge worker productivity within the organisation come into being and operate across boundaries of time, space and organisational structure. The notion of the panopticon is used to identify and characterise forms of control and undertake interpretive and critical analysis of interview data and staff behaviour. Findings: It was found that the totality of the modes of power relations operating upon virtual knowledge workers in this case study comprises a complex and sophisticated ensemble of control and constraint. Whilst initial observations indicate that control is restricted to a small set of direct controls, the research led one to observe a complex, pervasive web of integrated and overlapping constraints emanating from the external and internal panopticon. Originality/value: The critical approach leads one to a pragmatic understanding of the range of influences which keep virtual knowledge workers “on task”. Also a better understanding of the “network effect” of these constraints and their co‐reinforcement is reached, which may well further understanding of managing the performance of virtual knowledge workers.