The Emotional Labor of Surveillance: Digital Control in Fast Fashion Retail

Van Oort, Madison
Critical Sociology

Rooted in critical labor studies and feminist surveillance studies, this article explores how big data and biometric surveillance impact fast fashion’s predominantly feminized and racialized workforce. Through ethnography and interviews, I find that automated flexible scheduling, a now widely documented phenomenon, not only disciplines just-in-time staff but also encourages additional forms of digital control—including biometric scanners and point-of-sale metrics. While the technologies described exhibit regular limitations, such as failure and vulnerability to sabotage, they nevertheless have the cumulative effect of exacerbating worker insecurity and reinforcing inequality. I argue that alongside the decline of interactive emotional service work in low-wage retail, emerges another kind of affective labor—that of working amid often invisible yet pervasive digital monitoring. I call this work “the emotional labor of surveillance.”