Management Culture and Surveillance

52 Pages Posted: 6 Jan 2020 Last revised: 30 Mar 2020

See all articles by J.S. Nelson

J.S. Nelson

Harvard Business School; Villanova Law School (on leave 2021-22); Villanova School of Business; The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania; Institute for Corruption Studies

Date Written: December 16, 2019


As the modern workplace increasingly adopts technology, that technology is being used to surveil workers in ways that can be highly invasive. Ostensibly, management uses surveillance to assess workers’ productivity, but it uses the same systems to, for example, map their interpersonal relationships, study their conversations, collect data on their health, track where they travel on and off the job, as well as monitor and manipulate their emotional responses. Many of these overreaches are justified in the name of enterprise control.

That justification should worry us. This Article aims to make us think about how surveillance is being used as a management tool. It raises broader questions about how management may use its tools if unchecked, especially given what we know about the origins and development of modern management from its roots in the slave plantations of the U.S. South and the West Indies.

Given this history, the Article argues for a new framework of analysis based on requiring better justifications for why managers need each piece of data that they collect on workers.

Keywords: business ethics, management, surveillance, white collar crime, technology, history, privacy, autonomy, techniques

JEL Classification: K00, K10, K19, K20, K22, K29, K30, K39, K40, K42, K49, Z10, Z18, Z19, L00, L10, L14, L19, L20, L29

Suggested Citation

Nelson, Josephine (J.S.), Management Culture and Surveillance (December 16, 2019). 43 Seattle U. L. Rev. 2, 631 (2020) (Berle XI symposium on Corporate Culture)., Available at SSRN:

Josephine (J.S.) Nelson (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States

Villanova Law School (on leave 2021-22) ( email )

299 N. Spring Mill Road
Villanova, PA 19085
United States

Villanova School of Business ( email )

800 Lancaster Avenue
Villanova, PA 19085-1678
United States

The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania ( email )

3730 Walnut Street
Room 668 Jon M. Huntsman Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6340
United States

Institute for Corruption Studies

Stevenson Hall 425
Normal, IL 61790-4200
United States

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