Out of the Panopticon and into Exile: Visibility and Control in Distributed New Culture Organizations

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This paper builds a theoretical argument for exile as an alternative metaphor to the panopticon, for conceptualizing visibility and control in the context of distributed “new culture” organizations. Such organizations emphasize team relationships between employees who use digital technologies to stay connected with each other and the organization. I propose that in this context, a fear of exile – that is a fear of being left out, overlooked, ignored or banished – can act as a regulating force that inverts the radial spatial dynamic of the panopticon and shifts the responsibility for visibility, understood both in terms of competitive exposure and existential recognition, onto workers. As a consequence these workers enlist digital technologies to become visible at the real or imagined organizational centre. A conceptual appreciation of exile, as discussed in existential philosophy and postcolonial theory, is shown to offer productive grounds for future research on how a need for visibility in distributed, digitised, and increasingly precarious work environments regulates employee subjectivity, in a manner that is not captured under traditional theories of ICT-enabled surveillance in organizations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)697-717
Number of pages21
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number5
Early online date20 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021


I am grateful to colleagues at the KIN Center for Digital Innovation, the University of Sydney Business School, and discussants and participants at the 2018 European Theory Development Workshop and the EGOS Standing Working Group on Digital Technology, Media and Organization for their comments and constructive feedback on earlier versions of this work; in particular Frank den Hond, Mike Zundel, Christopher Steele, Marleen Huysman, Lauren Waardenburg, Kai Riemer, Séamas Kelly and John Roberts. I also thank the three anonymous reviewers and the Guest Editors of the special issue on Organizational control and surveillance of new work practices, especially Iain Munro, for their insightful suggestions throughout the review process. The author received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

FundersFunder number
University of Sydney Business School


    • Organization control
    • Panopticon
    • Surveillance
    • Exile
    • New Culture
    • Distributed organizing
    • Precarity
    • Neoliberal
    • Governmentality
    • Remote work

    VU Research Profile

    • Connected World


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