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4 Theoretical background

4.1.6 Keeping artifacts and organizational routines distinct

The introduction of these concepts has provided scholars with the ability to understand the relationship between artifacts and organizational routines in a more nuanced way. However, I assert that it is important to maintain a distinction between artifacts and the performances of human actors in organizational routines, as initially argued (2005, 2008a) and later reiterated by Feldman and Pentland (e.g. 2016). While it is important to recognize artifacts as an active

Thesis 54 participant in the shaping of organizational routines, and vice versa, by introducing concepts such as actants, there is a risk of conflating from where the actions are coming from – the human or the nonhuman actors, which has also been pointed out by other organizational routines scholars (e.g.

Parmigiani and Howard-Grenville, 2011; Volkoff et al., 2007). Furthermore, this can also lead one to focus less on the materiality of artifacts, its matter and form, as the focus is on what the performances of humans and artifacts do (together) while not directly attending to the materiality of artifacts, its matter and form.

These distinctions are especially important to maintain when trying to capture the development of hardware-driven IT phenomena like head-mounted displays, but also in general as information technologies are increasingly becoming more flexible – a development that cannot be captured without attending to the materiality of IT (Leonardi, 2011; Pentland and Feldman, 2007).

However, the actual materiality e.g. the form and matter of head-mounted displays, are often portrayed as being intact, or not focused on at all, in turn casting the materiality of technology as mostly static or inflexible.

This is best exemplified with the aforementioned concept of power of default which stresses that people tend to choose the path of least resistance, and while it is in theory possible to change technologies, in practice, this does not happen very often. Or as D’Adderio expresses it: “…while formal software controls can – in theory – be easily modified or entirely averted, in practice this requires the deployment of resources (e.g. time and software programming skills), which are often unavailable. In these circumstances, the ‘power of default’ of such artifacts…will prevent adaptation and customization.” (D’Adderio, 2011, p. 216). Thus, by using concepts such as power of default and actants, the focus is shifted away from the materiality of artifacts and technologies to for example the consequences of any given technologies’ defaults or to what humans and nonhumans do together (actants). By pursuing such a focus, it seems that the materiality, in the most literal sense, namely the matter and form of technology, is not directly conceptualized. This can in turn lead to people seeing artifacts as being fixed or static because the role that the matter and form of the technology play, which shapes its material agency, is downplayed. Consequently, the materiality of a technology and its potential for change, flexibility, or for that matter inflexibility, is not directly attended to.

This is not to say that technology in itself is flexible or inflexible, as it is embedded in organizations where people, and other artifacts, can have it modified to fit their needs. For example, not all people poses the technical know-how to change the code in existing programs

Thesis 55 that enhance the software in some way or another. But if the context, people, and other connected technologies “allow” a technology’s materiality to change, this flexibility of its material properties can be decisive in order to understand how the matter and form of immersive technologies, for example head-mounted displays and its related software and hardware, imbricate with organizational routines. It is therefore important to include the material idiosyncrasies of the technology by conceptually differentiating between what a technology does and what it is, its matter and form.

Furthermore, the context in which technology exists in is equally important when understanding the role of technology in organizational routines (Parmigiani and Howard-Grenville, 2011, p.

445). The introduction of such concepts as actants seems to have prompted a shift of focus to the material agency in isolation. As a result, organizational routines researchers also tend to underprioritize the surrounding technical infrastructure that the empirically observable technologies are connected with. For example, a software program is likely to be easier for people to change and work around in a software development organization than, say, in a shipping company, due to their professional training but also because of the software and infrastructure they work with. This means that organizational routines scholars should be aware of and not disregard the form and matter of artifact(s) under investigation when conceptualizing technology and its material agency.

To summarize, as this theoretical review of the practice perspective shows, the scholars has taken steps towards giving technology a more prominent and active role in organizational routines theory. However, researchers do portray the technology as being static or inflexible due to a lack of focus on the materiality of technology. In particular, with the utilization of concepts from Actor-Network theory, technology has been given agency. However, as concepts, like actants, do not make a distinction between what a technology is and what it does, the materiality is not conceptualized directly (Leonardi, 2012, 2011). Consequently, the technology, and the other technologies it is connected to, is often cast as being intact or static in the interactions with human performances because its physical properties, its matter and form, and its potential for flexibility/inflexibility are undermined. In relation to my thesis, this conceptualization of technology makes it difficult to map out the influence of head-mounted displays, and its related hardware and software, on organizational routines.

Thesis 56 In the following chapter I will illustrate and exemplify in more depth how these tendencies come to light in organizational routines literature, with the intent of introducing an alternative conceptualization of organizational routines and technologies relationship.

Key concepts Definitions and explanations

Performances The actions taken by actors involved in an organizational routine.

Ostensive pattern

The different narratives or ideas of a routine that the actors in the routine have. Sometimes referred to as ostensive patterns to underline that the ostensive pattern consists of repeated performances or actions that contain the same pattern.

Nonhumans (technology)

A concept encompassing everything that is not human which is often used in Actor Network Theory. In my thesis I primarily use the narrower term technology.

Artifacts Artifacts are the physical manifestations of the organizational routines which enable and constrain organizational routines. In my thesis I primarily use the narrower term technology.

Variation A variation in the performances of an existing organizational routine which might be selected and become part of the ostensive pattern of an