Karen Levy / Refractive Surveillance: Monitoring Customers to Manage Workers / 09.04.18

Karen Levy is an assistant professor in the Department of Information Science at Cornell University, and associate member of the faculty of Cornell Law School. She researches how law and technology interact to regulate social life, with particular focus on social and organizational aspects of surveillance. Much of Dr. Levy’s research analyzes the uses of monitoring for social control in various contexts, from long-haul trucking to intimate relationships. She is also interested in how data collection uniquely impacts, and is contested by, marginalized populations.

Dr. Levy is also a fellow at the Data and Society Research Institute in New York City. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Princeton University and a J.D. from Indiana University Maurer School of Law. Dr. Levy previously served as a law clerk in the United States Federal Courts.

Talk: “Refractive Surveillance: Monitoring Customers to Manage Workers”

Abstract: Collecting information about one group can facilitate control over an entirely different group—a phenomenon we term refractive surveillance. We explore this dynamic in the context of retail stores by investigating how retailers’ collection of data about customers facilitates new forms of managerial control over workers. We identify four mechanisms through which refractive surveillance might occur in retail work, involving dynamic labor scheduling, new forms of evaluation, externalization of worker knowledge, and replacement through customer self-service. Our research suggests that the effects of surveillance cannot be fully understood without considering how populations might be managed on the basis of data collected about others. [joint work with Solon Barocas]

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