The Contexts of Control: Information, Power, and Truck-Driving Work

Levy, Karen E. C.
The Information Society

This article examines the implications of electronic monitoring systems for organizational information flows and worker control, in the context of the U.S. trucking industry. Truckers, a spatially dispersed group of workers with a traditionally independent culture and a high degree of autonomy, are increasingly subjected to performance monitoring via fleet management systems that record and transmit fine-grained data about their location and behaviors. These systems redistribute operational information within firms by accruing real-time aggregated data in a remote company dispatcher. This redistribution results in a seemingly incongruous set of effects. First, abstracted and aggregated data streams allow dispatchers to quantitatively evaluate truckers’ job performance across new metrics, and to challenge truckers’ accounts of local and biophysical conditions. Second, even as these data are abstracted, information about truckers’ activities is simultaneously resocialized via its strategic deployment into truckers’ social relationships with their coworkers and families. These disparate dynamics operate together to facilitate firms’ control over truckers’ daily work practices in a manner that was not previously possible. The trucking case reveals multifaceted pathways to the entrenchment of organizational control via electronic monitoring.