Mobile Technologies and the Spatiotemporal Configuration of Institutional Practice

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One of the most significant contemporary technological trends is institutional adoption and use of mobile and location-based systems and services. We argue that the notion of “location” as it manifests itself in location-based systems is being produced as an object of exchange. Here we are specifically concerned with what happens to institutional roles, power relationships, and decision-making processes when a particular type of information—that of spatiotemporal location of people—is made into a technologically tradable object through the use of location-based systems. We examine the introduction of GPS (Global Positioning Systems) technologies by the California criminal justice system and the institution of parole for monitoring the movements of parolees, with consequences both for the everyday lives of these parolees and the work practices of their parole officers. We document the ways in which broad adoption of location-based and mobile technologies has the capacity to radically reconfigure the spatiotemporal arrangement of institutional processes. The presence of digital location traces creates new forms of institutional accountability, facilitates a shift in the understood relation between location and action, and necessitates new models of interpretation and sense making in practice.

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