Ubiquitous technologies, cultural logics and paternalism in industrial workplaces

Poiesis and Praxis 5 (3-4):265-290 (2007)
Abstract
Ubiquitous computing is a new kind of computing where devices enhance everyday artefacts and open up previously inaccessible situations for data capture. ‘Technology paternalism’ has been suggested by Spiekermann and Pallas (Poiesis & Praxis: Int J Technol Assess Ethics Sci 4(1):6–18, 2006) as a concept to gauge the social and ethical impact of these new technologies. In this article we explore this concept in the specific setting of UK road maintenance and construction. Drawing on examples from our qualitative fieldwork we suggest that cultural logics such as those reflected in paternalistic health and safety discourse are central in legitimising the introduction of ubiquitous computing technologies. As such, there is little doubt that paternalism plays an essential role in people’s reasoning about ubiquitous computing in this setting. We argue, however, that since discourses such as health and safety are used by everyone (including both managers and workers) in the organisation to further their own aims, technologies transcend purely paternalistic conceptualisations and instead become a focal point for ongoing struggles for control between those deploying and using them. This means that the benefits and costs of such new technologies become harder to define from an ethical and social perspective
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