Sub-theme 35: Deconstructing Institutions: Meaning, Technology and Materiality

Jannis Kallinikos
London School of Economics, UK
Hans Hasselbladh
Örebro University, Sweden
Giovan Francesco Lanzara
University of Bologna, Italy

Call for Papers

Institutional theory has over the last three decades or so provided a range of useful analytical tools that have been applied to the study of organizations and other social and economic phenomena of the contemporary world. It is a basic assumption of institutional theory, albeit often not explicitly articulated, that the making of institutions is closely tied to the processes through which meaning and value is assigned to selected regions of reality, rendering them recognizable and, crucially, authoritative. In this respect, institutions are contrived orders that are assembled into solid arrangements out of a more primary or elementary set of materials and conditions.

Along the lines of the call of the 2011 EGOS Colloquium, we find that the building blocks of institutions and the processes through which institutional realities congeal to stable orders, or lose their support and decline are not well understood. In this sub-theme call, we would like to draw attention to the primary reality of material and technological conditions out of which institutions emerge. These fundamental issues we feel have not as yet been sufficiently recognized and studied in contemporary institutional theory. We do know that institutions are supported by technological and material arrangements, yet the common assumption is that such arrangements are not amenable to analysis by means of the conceptual armoury of institutional theory. To a certain extent, this is well justified by the distinctive focus of institutional theory to the cultural and normative rules or operations through which a meaningful and legitimate social order is produced.

And yet important developments over the last few decades suggest that technological and institutional realities increasingly turn upon one another. For instance, the operations of financial markets are intertwined with the technological arteries through which information and transactions flow worldwide. Cultural heritance institutions (e.g. libraries, museums, archives), to refer to another example, are increasingly infiltrated by search engines, and the logic through which technologies penetrate and reconstruct their operations. More broadly, we are just beginning to discover, often with awe, the powerful regulatory and ordering functions embodied in software in a variety of institutional and social domains. At another level, open and, in a sense, primary social relations from spontaneous social encounters to trivial conversations are increasingly brought under the regulative reach of institutions through the mediation of modern technologies. These developments are certainly the outcome of the plasticity and flexibility of the technologies of computing and communication that allows them to penetrate most regions of human experience. But the very same developments are also a reflection of the fundamental condition that technology at the very bottom is a standardized and objectified system of coping with the world. These observations suggest that the making of institutional realities is closely associated with a more primary reality of material and technological arrangements, a condition which requires closer investigation.

Accordingly, we welcome research contributions to the generic subject of how institutions and institution building are supported by a series of more primary material and technological arrangements that usually escape the limelight. The term deconstruction in the title of our call has this broader meaning of tracing the building blocks and processes of institutional reality making and it should not be limited to deconstruction as practiced by Jacques Derrida and his followers. More particularly, we ask:

  • What sort of organizational experiences, professional practices and administrative arrangements are mediated by the technologies of computing and communication and the growing involvement of the internet in organizations? What do people in different areas of practice do differently by using what technologies and how can these differences be associated to the making of institutions?
  • How are media, such as writing and image and the technological means (e.g. script and paper, broadcasting or digital video) supporting them, related to the processes of sensemaking, organizing and institution building in specific domains of practice or areas of social activity?
  • How are mundane systems, techniques and procedures for managing and monitoring organizations and organizational performance associated with the institutional order within which they take place?
  • In which ways do primary technologically mediated social realities (encounters, interactive orders, conversations) support or undermine institutions and institution building?
  • How are information and communication technologies related to skill formation and professional identity-building?

We invite both contributions reporting empirically based studies and contributions that focus on critical analysis and discussion of theories and conceptual frameworks.


Jannis Kallinikos 
Hans Hasselbladh 
Giovan Francesco Lanzara