Inter-Asia Cultural Studies: Movements

17.1 visual essay
17.1 visual essay



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  »  Issues Contents  2009-05-19 No.1 From boot camp to bu-bu? IT surveillance, patriarchal familism, and labor control: a South Korean case study


From boot camp to bu-bu? IT surveillance, patriarchal familism, and labor control: a South Korean case study
KIM Wang-Bae and HAM Young Eon
Information technology capable of real-time evaluation has changed the nature of labor control by completely monitoring a system. This homeostasis of real-time control eliminating the space barrier has increased workers' stress and anxiety and weakened the workers' solidarity. An IT surveillance system, frequently called an electronic panopticon, has been viewed as the sophisticated form of the Talyor principle of scientific management. However, IT surveillance has operated in the way of combined form with the cultural values of a certain society. In this paper, I show how cultural values influence labor control through IT surveillance using a case study from the tire industry. H tire company has introduced the DAS (Data Acquisition System) for increasing productivity through a new control system. Real-time evaluation, an instant report of each workers' merit on the monitor, and compensation have made workers feel constantly under surveillance and under stress due to competition with other workers. This IT surveillance has more deeply influenced labor control when combined with patriarchal familism - composed of features such as group-oriented attitudes, hierarchical relations between the old and young, subordination to one's seniors, etc, which have come to be viewed as some of the typical cultural values prevalent in South Korea. Although the basic principle of technology may be the same in all societies, the effects of applied information technology depend on specific socio-historical contexts: not only culture, habits, and politics, but also the power relations between managers and workers. I will tentatively designate this as a 'hybrid form' of labor control, in the sense that cultural value is added or intermingled with the principle of IT surveillance.
Keywords: information technology; surveillance; labor control; patriarchal familism; cultural value
Authors’ biographies
Kim Wang-Bae is currently an associate professor at Sociology Department, Yonsei University in Seoul. His major concerns are ‘class and inequality’, ‘work and labor process,’ ‘urban theory’. He is also participating in a project about migration work and multi-culture in East Asia, paying special attention to Joseonjok (Korean – Chinese). He is also interested in the formation of community including the principle of social solidarity and social enterprise, and the cooperative union movement in Korean society.
Ham Young Eon graduated from the Sociology Department, Yonsei University. Currently he is a research fellow at the Institute of Social Development Studies, Yonsei University. His concerns are on technology and the labor movement, mainly touching on the impact of technology on labor organization and everyday life.

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