Watchers, watched, and watching in the digital age: Reconceptualization of information technology monitoring as complex action nets

Aljona Zorina, France Bélanger, Nanda Kumar, Stewart Clegg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Despite increasing studies of information technology (IT) monitoring, our understanding of how IT-mediates relations between the watcher and watched remains limited in two areas. First, either traditional actor-centric frameworks assuming predefined watcher-watched relationships (e.g., panopticon or synopticon) are adopted or monitoring actors are removed to focus on data flows (e.g., dataveillance, assemblages, panspectron). Second, IT monitoring research predominantly assumes IT artifacts to be stable, bounded, designed objects, with prescribed uses which provides an oversimplified view of actor relationships. To redress these limitations, a conceptual framework of veillance applicable to a variety of possible IT or non-IT-mediated relationships between watcher and watched is developed. Using the framework, we conduct a conceptual review of the literature, identifying IT-enabled monitoring and transformations of actors, goals, mechanisms and foci and develop an action net model of IT veillance where IT artifacts are theorized as equivocal, distributable and open for diverse use, open to edits and contributions by unbounded sets of heterogenous actors characterized by diverse goals and capabilities. The action net of IT veillance is defined as a flexible decentralized interconnected web shaped by multidirectional watcher-watched relationships, enabling multiple dynamic goals and foci. Cumulative contributions by heterogenous participants organize and manipulate the net, having an impact through influencing dispositions, visibilities and the inclusion/exclusion of self and others. The model makes three important theoretical contributions to our understanding of IT monitoring of watchers and watched and their relationships. We discuss implications and avenues for future studies on IT veillance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1571-1596
Number of pages26
JournalOrganization Science
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


  • Action net model
  • Information technology transformations
  • Monitoring
  • Panopticon
  • Surveillance
  • Veillance
  • Veillance actors
  • Veillance apparatus
  • Veillance foci
  • Veillance goals
  • Veillance web


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