What Do the Guards Think? Tracing the Discourse of Employee Surveillance in Academic Institutions
Jones, Meg L.
Surveillance in workplaces and in academic institutions have long relied on strategic discourse to justify and normalize its practices. Scholars have approached this topic from a variety of disciplines, examining the ways this rhetoric leans on campaigns of fear, innovation, and technological determinism to maintain and even exacerbate power imbalances between those who monitor and those who are monitored. But little is written on the discourse surrounding surveillance in environments where the power dynamics are much more equal. Georgetown University Law Center is one such example. An institution of higher education, and widely recognized for its renowned privacy faculty and curricula, the law school is an exemplar of an environment where civil liberties and the individual agencies of both administrators and faculty are championed. But in 2018, Georgetown Law implemented a lecture capture technology called Panopto into every classroom on its campus, where it would record all classes with video and audio.Through discourse tracing conducted by interviews and thematic analyses, this paper explores the rhetoric deployed throughout Panopto’s initial and continued implementation. While some differences in language do exist, the results of the case study indicate that the language used by the Georgetown Law community strongly reflects that which is commonly associated with environments of much higher disparities in power. This paper situates these findings within the theoretical framework of a panoptic spectrum – a scale by which explicit, sharp forms of surveillance engender active resistance, while subtle, soft forms of surveillance elicit compliance and docility. Unlike the traditional hierarchical workplace, however, Georgetown Law does not offer a clear distinction between the metaphorical prisoners of the Panopticon and the all-seeing watchers in the tower. Instead, the case study offers a new consideration – though uniformed and in positions of power, the guards who patrol the prison are watched, too. These “guards” of the Georgetown Law community develop a perception of immunity from the sharp surveillance of lecture capture technologies, thus allowing for its propagation through the same discursive practices that justify surveillance elsewhere. By shining the tower’s light on the surveillance discourse in horizontally structured workplaces, the paper answers an important question: what do the guards think?
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