Data Driven: Truckers and the New Workplace Surveillance

Colloquium | January 22 | 2-3:30 p.m. | 820 Barrows Hall

 Karen Levy, Assistant Professor of Information Science, Associated Faculty at Cornell Law School, Cornell University

 Social Science Matrix

This talk examines how electronic monitoring systems in the U.S. trucking industry are used to compel truckers' compliance with legal and organizational rules. For decades, truckers have kept track of their work time using easily falsified log books, and performed their work without too much regard for legal worktime limits. But new regulations will require truckers' time to be monitored by digital systems, hard-wired into the trucks themselves, which remove much of the flexibility on which truckers have historically relied.

In her research, Karen Levy, Assistant Professor of Information Science at Cornell University and Associated Faculty at Cornell Law School, focuses on how digital monitoring reshapes truckers' social relations in two spheres. First, she examines how the systems reshape organizational information flows in trucking firms. Electronic monitoring systems accrue real-time aggregated data in remote dispatchers, allowing firms to construct alternative narratives to truckers' accounts of local and biophysical conditions. Data are then re-embedded in drivers' social networks—fleets and even families—as firms attach economic incentives to them to create new performance pressures. These dynamics facilitate firms' control over truckers in new ways.

Levy then considers challenges created by human/machine hybridity in inspection interactions, in which law enforcement officers seek to verify truckers' time logs. Digital monitors destabilize traditional power dynamics by making officers' technical troubles newly visible to truckers, undermining their authority. Truckers exploit officers' anxiety by misleadingly signaling the presence of monitors (through a process of "decoy compliance") in hopes of avoiding inspection. These interactions demonstrate how human discretion and the performance of authority remain fundamental to enforcement regimes, even when they rely in part on digital technology.

Speaker Biography
Karen Levy is an Assistant Professor of Information Science at Cornell University and Associated Faculty at Cornell Law School. Her research focuses on social and ethical dimensions of emerging technologies, with particular concern for effects on marginalized groups. She has a Ph.D. in Sociology from Princeton University and a J.D. from Indiana University Maurer School of Law.

This event is presented as part of the UC Berkeley Sociology Departmental Colloquium Series.

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