Strategies of Control: Workers’ Use of ICTs to Shape Knowledge and Service Work

Ticona, Julia
Information, Communication & Society

This paper examines the way that different types of workers deploy strategies of control in concert with and in resistance to information and communication technologies (ICTs). Existing research on the effects of ICTs for knowledge workers has illustrated the ways they can lead to practices of overwork and work–life spillover. However, the dearth of studies on service workers and ICT means that we have a limited understanding of their role across different segments of the workforce. Drawing on interviews with service workers and knowledge workers, I examine how they use ICTs to shape their experiences of work. The study finds the two groups deployed ICTs in different ways, and employed different ICT-centric strategies to control the temporal and emotional demands of their labor. The service workers deployed strategies of everyday resistance in concert with their ICTs to gain a feeling of autonomy within the power structures of their workplaces. The knowledge workers deployed strategies of inaccessibility to resist the work-extending affordances of their devices and decouple from work which threatened to colonize too much of their lives. Both service and knowledge workers deploy strategies that may obscure the institutional sources of their problems by overindividualizing risk and responsibility. The paper concludes by calling for a broader empirical research agenda and more comparative research oriented to understanding the ways that ICTs both enable and constrain workers confronting different work conditions and demands.