Friday, August 22, 2003

Reading:: Information Technology and Changes in Organizational Work

Originally posted: Fri, 22 Aug 2003 19:21:51

Information Technology and Changes in Organizational Work
by J. De Gross, Jones (Editor), Orlikowski (Editor)

Well, things have been crazy around here. I finished this book a few days ago but haven't gotten a chance to post the review until now.

The thing you need to know about this book is that it's the proceedings of a 1999 conference by the same name. So it has a high number of chapters -- 25 -- and some of these chapters are 2-3 page descriptions of panels rather than papers per se. At the same time, the papers are generally solid and intriguing, not the sort of abbreviated arguments you might expect if you've been attending, say, CCCC or ATTW. So even though the papers are short, many are worth reading and citing.

That's especially true if you're interested in the integration of information technology and business from a theoretical or research perspective. The book has sections on new forms of work, business process reengineering (BPR), systems development, inscription (mainly influenced by Latour's and Akrich's work at the time), and learning. Of course I found several essays quite valuable. Shoshanna Zuboff, for instance, argues for dismantling the 20th century managerial hierarchy and critiques BPR from this standpoint. Kari Kuutti contributes yet another thoughtful piece on information systems research, this time discussing new forms of work in terms of post-Fordism. Richard Vidgen and Tom McMaster discuss a design problem in a parking garage in terms of actor-network theory (in what looks to be a companion piece to one published in Kyng and Mathiassen's Computers and Design in Context), along with a critique of ANT that doesn't quite hit the mark. In his piece, Latour finally confesses that one disadvantage of networks is their extreme flexibility: they cannot provide policy, pass judgment, or explain stable features. He goes over ways that he and other ANT people have tried to deal with the problem recently: fluids, modes of coordination, regimes of deregulation. (I remember him talking about these in Pandora's Hope, but I don't remember him admitting that these provided a fix for the earlier incarnation of ANT.) And finally, Eric Monteiro and Ole Hanseth continue a series of ANT-based work by discussing sociotechnical networks; they provide a useful list of drawbacks of ANT studies in technology.

This book isn't what I would consider a landmark book by any means. One of the problems with proceedings is that the arguments are sometimes poorly fleshed out and empirical cases are frequently sketchy, and this book -- although a very good proceedings -- suffers from some of these problems. But it provides a nice broad social perspective on information technology research and some interesting arguments nonetheless.

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