Sub-theme 49: Working and Organizing in Technologically Dense Environments

Attila Bruni
University of Trento, Italy
Anne Mayère
University of Toulouse, France
Manuela Perrotta
University of Trento, Italy

Call for Papers

Working and organizing seem to be embedded in increasingly complex and situated technologies and practices. To paraphrase what Lucy Suchman (2007) has written about the demarcation line between human action and technological action, it can be said that one of the major issues in contemporary organizational debate is no longer where to draw a demarcation line between humans and non-humans but how to draw it.

Thus, if the spreading of information and communication technologies has changed workplaces (and even the very meaning of 'workplace' as an area marked by the physical presence of different human actors), working in technologically dense environments (TDEs) mobilizes the joint action of humans, technologies and knowledges. The notion of TDEs, so, refers to places in which human actors and technological objects work 'together' (Bruni, 2005); or, they can be virtual places in which human interaction is made possible by technologies. In TDEs complex sociomaterial practices mobilize the joint action of heterogeneous elements (both humans and nonhumans) in supporting collective work, blurring the distinction between technological and organizational processes. In the last decades, literature has provided a range of interesting examples of TDEs: laboratories (Latour & Woolgar, 1979; Lynch, 1985) financial markets (Beunza & Stark, 2003; Knorr-Cetina & Preda, 2004), centres of coordination (Suchman, 1997; Heath & Luff, 2000) and medical settings (Berg & Mol, 1998; Timmermans & Berg, 2004).

The roots of this understanding can be found in actor-network theory, as well as in workplace studies and in practice-based studies. One of the common basis of these approaches resides in the attention for the sociomaterial dimension of organizing. This dimension opens up a space for the broadening of the scenario in the field of organization studies and invites to focus in depth on the study of practices and processes that inextricably bind together working, organizing, and the use of artefacts and technological systems.

Methodologically, this requires a specific attention for the description and reconstruction of everyday organizational activities, in order to account for their technological embeddedness.

The sub-theme, therefore, welcomes papers (empirically, theoretically, and/or methodologically oriented) that explore in details the techno-organizational articulations and disarticulations of daily work. Possible (but not limited) topics are:

  • the interweaving between technological and organizational practices;
  • the doing of objects and technologies in everyday organizational life;
  • the recontruction of organizational processes through technological practices;
  • the ambiguities and disarticulations prompted by technological systems supporting working practices;
  • the body, its technological relations and prothesis;
  • methodological aspects of studying TDEs.


Berg, M. & A. Mol (eds.) (1998): Differences in Medicine: Unravelling Practices, Techniques and Bodies. Durham: Duke University Press.
Beunza, D. & D. Stark (2004): "Tools of the Trade: The Socio-technology of Arbitrage in a Wall Street Trading Room." Industrial and Corporate Change, 13 (2), 369-400.
Bruni, A. (2005): "Shadowing Software and Clinical Records: On the Ethnography of Non-Humans and Heterogeneous Contexts." Organization, 12, 357-78.
Heath, C. & P. Luff (2000): Technology in Action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Knorr-Cetina, K.D. & A. Preda (eds.) (2004): The Sociology of Financial Markets. Oxford: University Press.
Latour, B. & S. Woolgar (1979): Laboratory Life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Lynch, M. (1985): Art and Artifact in Laboratory Science: A Study of Shop Work and Shop Talk in a Research Laboratory. Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Suchman, L. (1997): Centers of Coordination. A Case and Some Themes. In: L. Resnik, R. Säljö, C. Pontecorvo & B. Burge (eds.): Discourse, Tools and Reasoning. Essays on Situated Cogniti: Human-Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Action. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Timmermans, S. & M. Berg (2004): The Gold Standard: The Challenge of Evidence-based Medicine and Standardization in Health Care. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.


Attila Bruni 
Anne Mayère 
Manuela Perrotta