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Sociomateriality: challenging the separation of technology, work and organization

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We begin by juxtaposing the pervasive presence of technology in organizational work with its absence from the organization studies literature. Our analysis of four leading journals in the field confirms that over 95% of the articles published in top management research outlets do not take into account the role of technology in organizational life. We then examine the research that has been done on technology, and categorize this literature into two research streams according to their view of technology: discrete entities or mutually dependent ensembles. For each stream, we discuss three existing reviews spanning the last three decades of scholarship to highlight that while there have been many studies and approaches to studying organizational interactions and implications of technology, empirical research has produced mixed and often-conflicting results. Going forward, we suggest that further work is needed to theorize the fusion of technology and work in organizations, and that additional perspectives are needed to add to the palette of concepts in use. To this end, we identify a promising emerging genre of research that we refer to under the umbrella term: sociomateriality. Research framed according to the tenets of a sociomaterial approach challenges the deeply taken-for-granted assumption that technology, work, and organizations should be conceptualized separately, and advances the view that there is an inherent inseparability between the technical and the social. We discuss the intellectual motivation for proposing a sociomaterial research approach and point to some common themes evident in recent studies. We conclude by suggesting that a reconsideration of conventional views of technology may help us more effectively study and understand the multiple, emergent, and dynamic sociomaterial configurations that constitute contemporary organizational practices.

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