Worker autonomy and the drama of digital networks in organizations

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This essay considers the impact of digital networks in organizations on worker autonomy. Worker autonomy, the control that workers have over their own work situation, is claimed in this essay to be a key determinant for the quality of work, as well as an important moral goal. Digital networks pose significant threats to worker autonomy as well as opportunities for its enhancement. In this essay, the notion of worker autonomy is analyzed and evaluated for its importance and moral relevance. It is then considered how digital networks both threaten worker autonomy and offer opportunities for its enhancement. Three major opportunities (enhanced communicative powers, increased informedness, teleworking) and threats (electronic monitoring, task prestructuring, and dependency creation) are discussed and analyzed. Finally, the dynamics that determine the impact on worker autonomy of the introduction of a digital network in organizations are investigated. A particular model for analyzing these dynamics and their impacts, Bryan Pfaffenberger's model of a technological drama. It will be illustrated how this model illuminates these dynamics by analyzing them as a dialectic of strategies of technological regularization by design constituencies and technological adjustment by impact constituencies. It will also be assessed what role network design has in this process.
Original languageUndefined
Pages (from-to)15-25
Number of pages11
JournalEthics and information technology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1999


  • EWI-1007
  • IR-97674
  • METIS-148592

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