How Technology is Changing Work and Organizations

Published: 2021-09-10 14:45:11
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Category: Workforce, Impact of Technology

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Pervasiveness of technology in organizations and modern society is transforming work environments and everyday life of individuals. This course, in general, argues for a change in the earlier literature describing the relationship between technology and sociology, limitations of these approaches, and help demonstrate the need of a new perspective based on practice-based approach to allow for a greater integration of technology adoption and social factors concerning the adoption. The key themes of practice theory, socio-materiality, Actor-Network Theory and Identity is summarized and synthesized in the report to address the issues around management of technology and change in an organization. According to the sociological literature, Reckwitz (2002) defines the cultural theoretical perspective as social is in practice in that he explains practices as a set of routinized bodily activities. A social practice is thus a product of training the body parts in a certain way and every agent is a carrier of different social practices. Most importantly, agents are defined by the performance of these practices which are not only the bodily routines, but also mental routines. Social practice theory aims to integrate an individual with his/her surrounding environment and assessing how context and culture relate to common actions and practices of the individual. This idea of social practices was re-emphasized by Davide Nicolini (2011), in which he elucidates how organizational knowledge is not implicitly held by individuals and their actions but is demonstrated in the day to day practices and their relationships. He considers real time practices and their corresponding relationships as a ‘site’ in which knowing manifests. He took the example of telemonitoring and explained how the knowledge was distributed and dispersed among the various routinized practices which were followed, among various things and people at different level. The site refers to the totality of these mutually dependent and interconnected relationships of these practices, in which knowing prevails. The paper developed a concept focused on the practice based knowing in organizations and offered a traditional departure from the opinion of knowing which is manifested in the implicit knowledge of individuals.
Practice based approach was reflected efficiently by Kelly and Noonan (2017), in which they highlighted how the initial practice of datafication dominated the Indian Public Health Service. The classified datafication into two types namely systematic and edifying. Under systematic process, data was materialized as object form every individual could infer independent source of truth. The key constitutive practice associated with systematic practice of datafication was detachment and closedness. This encouraged the practice of data to be hided, kept secret and revealed only in a proportionate manner in order to introduce authoritarian-bureaucratic sociality and risk aversion. As the data was primarily used for reporting and as a form of control and reprimand, misreporting and misrepresenting of data had become a practice. The paper elucidates how the introduction of Dr. Sanjay radically changed this practice as he moved from a systematic datafication process to an edifying approach, in which the data was treated both as a subject and object giving rise to dialogic sociality associated with democratic process of conversation, learning and mutual exploration. Dr. Sanjay can be treated as a ‘Hero’, who completely changed the systematic practice of datafication established earlier associated with authoritarian-bureaucratic sociality which was deeply institutionalized in the public health system to a more open and innovative edifying process of datafication. Sanjay, in this case is synonymous with Reckwitz (2002), definition of an agent which is the carrier of social practices. Here Sanjay, as an agent was a skilled carrier of edifying practices which established new form of sociality, thus establishing an empirical evidence on the role of practice theory in organization and in our society.The second theme of the literature moves towards the concept of social and material through the principle of actor-network theory and socio-materiality. With the view to understand the role and impact of technology in organizations, two major research streams prevailed in the earlier literature. The first research stream is focused on the ontology of individuality that have stable characteristics. The focus on this stream leads to the main concepts of technological determinism and strategic choice (social determinism), where humans and technology are assumed to be independent identities. Technological determinism posits technology to be an independent variable which forces change in the social system of the organization. On the contrary, strategic choice views technology as a malleable resource which can be manipulated and put to various uses depending upon organizational strategies and political dynamics. The second research stream is focused on the ontology of duality, which assumes the relationship between technology and organizations as a socio-technical production. The main concepts of duality are Social constructivism and structurational perspective which sheds light by observing that technology is a human artifact which affects human actions and which in turn enable and constrain such actions and regards technology and organization as an emergent process of interaction. The problem with individuality was the focus of technology only at a specific technological event causing organizational change, wherein technology adoption or breakdown was only treated as valuable moments to comprehend social phenomena. The problem with duality is the assumption that technology and organization are treated as two separate entities which influence each other through interactions and thus presumes an ontological separation between the two.
To challenge the presumption of ontological separation present in the two research streams, the concept of relational ontology emerged that sees technology and organization as inextricable entwined. This view advocates for the concept of relationality ontology, introducing Actor- Network Theory and Socio-materiality as its main concepts. To address the need of treating human and non-human actors fairly, actor-network theory is based upon three principles of agnosticism, generalized symmetry and free association. Actor in actor-network theory is not just an object but an association of heterogeneous elements constituting a network. The elements in a network can be ‘black boxed’ in order to look like a single point actor. The point of treating humans and non-humans fairly is well correlated with Latour (2009), in which he argues that social relations and sociology can never be fully defined until and unless non-human artefacts are taken into consideration. He backs his argument by taking the example of door-closer which represents how humans have delegated their competences with a non-human artifact (door-closer), and our social relations are prescribed backs to us by non-humans. In fact, the properties of knowledge, ability and craft gained by humans are accompanied by the assistance of these delegated non-human characters.
While Actor-Network theory pitches for establishing a (temporary)network between human and non-humans to achieve a particular task, socio-materiality takes one step further and posits that there is no need for a establishing a connection or a network between humans and non-human artefacts as they are always constitutively entangled (i.e. they are in a non-separable permanent relationship with each other). Lanzara (2009) advocates that how practices of material objects, work routines and tools are medium dependent and are generally taken for granted. He argues when a new medium is introduced it may undermine the sensemaking of the practitioner and how migration to a new medium creates a perceptual and cognitive space, thereby creating a knowledge vacuum which can only be overcome by learning and realigning activities, cognitive linkages and functional entanglements in order to make sense of the new medium. This paper extends support towards Reckwitz (2002) practice theory as it explains the consequences of changing to a new medium from a well-established set of practices and routines. Thus, reiterating the importance of practices in our society and work environments. This paper also, to some extent, draws support towards Orlikowski & Scott (2008) socio-materiality theory as it signifies how a set of practices and routines between human and non-human artefacts were so much constitutively entangled within a material medium that changing to a new medium caused a cognitive vacuum. This reiterates the concept and importance of socio-materiality as it shows how a material medium is infused into our everyday lives in more ways than we might have imagined. Thus, material mediation is a constitutive element, which is not sufficiently expressed in practice theory but to an extent can be explained by socio-materiality as all practices are (re)configured by some specific socio-materiality.
Wenger (1999) elucidates that there is a profound connection between practice and identity. He argues that communities of practice are not only formed by the negotiation of meaning, but also negotiation of identity. Identity is defined by the reification and participation in communities of practice. Wenger claims that identity formation is a dual purpose of identification and negotiations, where negotiation defines the degree of control an individual has over his/her identity. He points out that learning is not only the accumulation of skills gained through acquisition of knowledge and information, but a process of getting defined through identity of participation. Identity formation in an individual can be explained by three models of belonging namely: engagement, alignment and imagination.

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