Sub-theme 02: [SWG] Understanding Organizing in Terms of Digital Media Technology: Histories, Presents, Futures

Robin Holt
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Maha Shaikh
Warwick Business School, United Kingdom
Mike Zundel
University of Liverpool Management School, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

Arguably, as a field, organization studies has only just started to problematize the fundamental inter-relation of digital technology, media and organizing. This sub-theme, the first meeting of the EGOS Standing Working Group (SWG on Digital Technology, Media and Organization) invites submissions that bring together different strands of research in the fields of science and technology studies (e.g. Law, 2000), information systems theory (e.g. Yoo et al., 2010; Constantiou & Kallinikos, 2015; Newell & Marabelli, 2015; Sundararajan et al., 2013); sociological research on media technology, data and algorithms (Gillespie et al., 2014); materiality, space and architecture (Leonardi et al., 2012; Martin, 2003; Thrift, 2011; Whyte, 2013) and related engagements with digitalization and the materiality of organizing (e.g. Jones 2014; Leonardi et al., 2012). Manuscripts can draw inspiration from research on entrepreneurial innovation, networks, information systems, craft and production methods, and organizational communication as well as integrate epistemological and methodological insights afforded by process-based theories and their insistence on understanding organization as ever in movement, as situational outcomes of forces of organizing (Helin et al., 2015).
‘Digital’ refers to networked computation, i.e. the ways in which computational capacities are distributed through the world and are connected back together. It can also be understood in distinction to its earlier pre-cursor, the analog (see Kittler, 1986/1999). At the same time it encourages a focus on what is immaterial (Stalder, 2000), intangible, yet intriguingly compelling (Ziewitz, 2016). The process often called ‘digitization’ includes a number of aspects, e.g. the encoding of analog information into digital format, or the making of programmable, addressable, sensible, communicable, memorable, traceable, and associable products (Yoo et al., 2010; Ernst, 2013; Zittrain, 2006) and how the move towards ‘virtuality’ (Hayles, 1999) alters the conception of the human body and work.
‘Media’ highlights the productivity of focusing on these digital technologies as media of organization. We draw here on an extended concept of media not reducible to ‘social’ or ‘mass media’ but one that puts in view processes of mediation in general (Horn, 2008; Orlikowski & Scott, 2008), and specifically the organizational powers of digital media technologies that move people, data and things and so change the conditions of possibility for things and relations to emerge in the first place (McLuhan, 2005; Monro, 2010). Digital media “traffic less in content, programs, and opinions than in organization, power, and calculation”, and their innovations have been “diffuse in tracking, tweeting, and tagging, in the structures of everyday life and the organization of power” (Peters, 2015, p. 7).
Finally, in ‘technology’ we find a theme inviting scholars to consider the intimacy between organization, tool use and human understanding, of which digital forms are the latest incarnation. Etymologically organization is grounded in the Greek organon, meaning tool or equipment, and technology in techne, meaning the making and use of things, leading to a variety of roles of technologies in organizational settings and the organization of these technologies take a number of shapes (Holt & Popp, 2016; Johnsen, 2016; Suchman, 2005).
Being the first meeting of this Standing Working Group, the sub-theme is dedicated to problematizing and interrogating the fundamental relationship of digital technology, media and organization. We encourage submissions that go back in time in order to explore historical occurrences of organization and/as technology. Such a genealogical approach to the ‘knot’ of technology and organization allows us to understand both the perpetuations and constants and the shifts and ruptures in how technology and media have been manifest; and how they then transformed into digital variants.
Here, we find modern technology an ‘ordering revealing’; not merely a tool in human hands but “no merely human doing” (Heidegger, 1967, p. 19). This mediated condition into which we find ourselves thrown holds sway over us; when we organize in the present and for the future, beholding us to enquire into the shifts from earlier technologies of organization to present and coming digital landscapes probing into how the shift from earlier technologies of organization to digital technologies has taken place.
Studies can consider the materiality of technology, for example the seminal work of Vismann (2008) on files and how these were integral to the forming of legal systems, or Kittler’s (1986/1999) work on gramophones, typewriters and film and their capacity to then organize what people say and do, and who they become, as components in writing systems. We also invite contributions that ponder, more broadly, the enframing of everyday life through technological apparatuses (Agamben, 2009) and the roles organizations play in this. They might also consider how understanding organization as technology configures the world both as an array of tools and the place of their use. Here, if technology has come to “indicate the evolution of living by other means than life” (Stiegler, 1994, p. 135), we might ask to what extent technology organizes and permeates human life (Hayles, 2014). Given the growth and extension of surveillance, storage, search and ranking technologies, for example, we might ask how this changes the way we memorize and learn, and the implications for human identity. This work can also draw on contemporary work in media archaeology and media genealogy (Parikka, 2012; Apprich & Bachmann, 2017; Flyverbom et al., 2016).
Given the way digital technology has collapsed any difference between medium and message there is growing intimacy between organizational form and information generation and handling in which human agency is playing an increasingly peripheral role. Following this, we can encourage studies that map contemporary constellations of digital technology, media and organization and of how organization becomes technology – from more peripheral relations of ‘automating’ and ‘informating’ (Zuboff, 1988) to a reliance on digital infrastructures in particular through storage, processing and retrieval of non-human memories for organizational decision making (Simon, 1973), to their organization in cybernetic logics of steering, control and recursion (Cooper & Law, 1995; Pias 2003), or more latterly, in network approaches or quantum disorder.
In probing into these pasts, presents and futures of technologically mediated forms of organizing the SWG’s first sub-theme will set the scene in which the subsequent, thematically pointed sub-themes, can play out.



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Robin Holt is Professor at the Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, and former Editor-in-Chief (until mid-2017) of 'Organization Studies'. Robin is interested in judgment and the conditions of judgment understood as forms of technological organization. Specifically, he researches craft and artistic production and consumption as liminal practices and spaces in which the 'reach' of managerially framed activity finds its limits.
Maha Shaikh is Assistant Professor of Information Systems at Warwick Business School, UK. Her area of research concerns open source, the dynamics of learning and organizing in open source collectives, material agency, and open innovation. For the last few years, Maha has concentrated on how, why, and under what conditions the public and private sector decides to adopt open source software and/or process. More specifically, she have explored the new dynamics of control and coordination that have emerged to help make working with new organizational forms, such as open source communities, possible for companies.
Mike Zundel is Professor at the University of Liverpool Management School, UK. He has an interest in stability/change relationships, the interplay between individual action and wider institutional processes, as well as the possibilities thrown up by practice theory, process philosophy and cybernetics for studying organization. Currently, Mike is conducting an historical (epochal) study of the shifting boundaries between managerial forms of knowledge (strategy, logistics, operations) and their media technological conditions.