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Beating the Box: How Truckers Resist Surveillance

Mon, August 14, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 515A


Resistance to surveillance is fast becoming an important focus for scholarly attention, as surveillance becomes more pervasive and wholesale opt-out becomes less feasible. But empirically, we know relatively little about resistance in the social world, and we lack developed theoretical frameworks to help us understand how and why it occurs. This paper takes a grounded approach to developing new theoretical and empirical knowledge about resistance to surveillance, based on an in-depth ethnographic study of digital monitoring in the United States trucking industry. Truckers are increasingly monitored digitally in the interests of compliance with federal regulations and with corporate rules and norms. I develop and taxonomize a wide range of resistance practices truck drivers use to foil regulatory and organizational surveillance of their work behaviors – ranging from material interventions to creative data manipulations, organizational strategies to collaborative evasion tactics. These strategies reveal that resistance to surveillance is not necessarily a “bottom-up,” user-empowering response to authority, as it is typically conceived. Instead, resistance strategies become avenues through which stakeholders attempt to arbitrate power relations among themselves; they may serve the interests of surveillors as well as the surveilled -- and may, in fact, act to further entrench economic and political inequalities among actors. The paper argues that resistance to surveillance is most accurately understood as a heterogeneously motivated, socially networked negotiation of power, not simply as an oppositional “weapon of the weak.”