Control in the era of surveillance capitalism: an empirical investigation of Italian Industry 4.0 factories


We explore the extent to which the current technological trend, dubbed Industry 4.0, might increase forms of control inside organisations, by focussing on pivotal firms in the so-called Italian Motor Valley currently embracing its adoption. We find that Industry 4.0 technologies open up great possibilities for incorporating the three forms of control identified by Orlikowski (Account Manag Inf Technol 1(1):9–42,, 1991), i.e. personal, bureaucratic, and social, into technological artefacts, often blending them together. If, on the one hand, this implies a technical and theoretical feasibility of enforcing forms of ‘Big Brother’ surveillance within the boundaries of organisations, and thereby of the workplace, on the other hand, the actual achievement of these possibilities depends on the organisational environment within which the new technologies are implemented.

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The authors wish to thank the editors of the special issue and one anonymous referee, Giovanni Dosi, Francesco Garibaldo, and participants to the Workshop “A new Industrial Revolution? Labour, Technology and the Automotive Industry” (2018, Pisa, Italy), for helpful comments and insightful suggestions at various stages of this work. The authors wish to thank the Claudio Sabattini Foundation (Bologna, Italy) and the Institute of Economics of Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (Pisa, Italy) for their support during field work. Maria Enrica Virgillito acknowledges support from European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant agreement no. 822781 GROWINPRO—Growth Welfare Innovation Productivity.


H2020 Societal Challenges (Europe in a changing world - Inclusive, innovative and reflective societies) (822781).

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Correspondence to Maria Enrica Virgillito.

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Moro, A., Rinaldini, M., Staccioli, J. et al. Control in the era of surveillance capitalism: an empirical investigation of Italian Industry 4.0 factories. J. Ind. Bus. Econ. 46, 347–360 (2019).

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  • Industry 4.0
  • Organisational change
  • Control
  • Saturation of working time

JEL Classification

  • L23
  • L6
  • M54
  • O33