Bringing the community back in…

By Wietske

Since my previous conversation starter was already about sociomateriality, it is not  very relevant to write another two page conversation starter about this topic. And as was already clear from my previous conversation starter, I am a big fan of the topic, so instead I will direct my attention to a critical discussion of the literature of today. More particularly, I want to raise one concern that hit me while I was studying the readings for Marleen’s seminar.

These readings focus on using the concepts of sociomateriality and affordances for studying processes in organizations that are changing in conjunction with developments in information technology (Zammuto et al. 2007, Leonardi and Barley, 2008; Orlikowski, 2007/2010). However, I would like to suggest that the term “organization” in organization studies should be interpreted much broader.

A lot of the new processes of organizing that co-evolve with new developments in information technology occur outside the realm of organizations and inside communities or other forms of collectives that are largely internet-based. These communities and collectives are not organizations, but they are still social entities that emerge from activities and processes of organizing. I believe we will be able to get much more interesting and novel insights by focusing on the emergence and evolution of these collectives in tandem with IT developments. This does not mean we should stop studying organizations, but I believe we can gain a lot of original insights into sociomateriality in organizations but focusing on other forms of human organizing outside organizations.

For instance, with respect to the five affordances that were mentioned by Zammuto et al. (2007)—virtual collaboration, mass collaboration, and simulation reality in particular—I think studying online communities and collectives can generate more interesting and novel insights than studying organizations. In sum, I believe we should bring communities back into organization science—in the form of online communities and collectives—to study a non-traditional theme— the co-entanglement of technology and organizing—in a non-traditional setting.

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