Sub-theme 37: Organization in the Age of Digital Reproduction

Convenors:
Mike Zundel
University of Liverpool, United Kingdom
Armin Beverungen
Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany
Aleksandra Przegalińska
Kozminski University, Warsaw, Poland

Call for Papers


In Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan (1964) investigated not how media are used, but how they act upon and reshape the perceptional schemata of humans. Where the difference between reproduction and the real becomes impossible to identify – be it through advanced computer simulation or, more fundamentally, through the increased familiarity with sign systems in the shape of decision support systems, bullet point landscapes, or exaggerated marketing messages – any sense for what Benjamin (1936) called an aesthetic ‘aura’ becomes veiled. McLuhan and Benjamin thus invite us to consider the ontological conditioning of media technologies.
 
Many organizations have begun to ‘automate’ and ‘informate’ (Zuboff, 1988) certain parts of their work, but – far from being simple tools for specific ends – media subliminally impressing their urgency and import upon us by shifting the boundary between what is possible and impossible; thinkable and unthinkable (Kittler, 2006, p. 49). For Benjamin (1936, p. 230), each technological epoch brought about ‘art forms’ that aspired to effects that ‘could be fully obtained only with a changed technical standard’. Early glimpses of what these epochal changes may mean for organizations surface in the cybernetic writings of Herbert Simon, who thinks of organizations in terms of information: an inquiry prompts a series of information gathering processes – Simon describes picking up the phone – until all necessary information is collected (Simon, 1973, p. 272). The histories of media and communication in organization are certainly a lot messier, as the work of JoAnne Yates (1989) has shown.
 
Information technologies eliminate the ‘distinction between material transportation and message transportation’ (Wiener, in: Light, 2006, p. 356), encouraging a focus on organizational infrastructures and their materiality. Simon sketches an organizational form related to a technical standard (the phone), one that has since evolved to even more rapid information processing that records, processes and stores non-human memories, displacing the former focus on the division of labour, factorization, or decision making (Simon, 1973, pp. 273, 278). Inside computers, Kittler (1991, p. 1) argues, ‘everything becomes a number: quantity without image, sound, or voice’; and with digital data flows ‘any medium can be translated into any other’, so that ultimately ‘a total media link on a digital base will erase the very concept of medium’. Here we find modern technology an ‘ordering revealing’; not merely a tool in human hands but ‘no merely human doing’ (Heidegger, 1967, p. 19).
 
With numbers, Kittler argues, ‘everything goes’; a never-ending switching-over of form without any need for anchoring in a signified world of materials, agents, or purposes. The ‘internet of things’ and ‘ubiquitous computing’ have exacerbated this state of affairs, with logistical media such as enterprise software enabling not only information transmission, processing and storage but equally the global movement of people, things and data (Peters, 2015; Rossiter, 2016; Cowen, 2014). The organizational power of networked, computational media here comes to the fore. Similar processes of transformation of mere tools into media ecologies enabling human activity can be observed in the field of personal informatics, the algorithmic self and the data-driven life, where professional and private is no longer clearly divided (Dow Schull, 2016; Pasquale, 2015). To be sure, the advent of wearable technologies (particularly tracking devices) opens up new questions concerning mediated materiality, links between the biological self and the organization as well as issues related to visibility and transparency.
 
Provoked by these questions, we invite contributions dedicated to digital media technology’s intimacy with organization. Contributions may draw on a number of disciplines and practices: from organization to media theory, from information technology to philosophy; from organizational design to communication studies; and take many forms: from essay to performance. We invite papers tracing or projecting technology mediated organizational realities, histories and futures. Topics may include but are not limited to:

  • What epochal shifts in media technology have shaped organization, and vice versa?
  • What organizational powers of digital media shape organization today?
  • How are management and organization reconfigured alongside media technologies?
  • Shifting boundaries between managerial forms of knowledge (strategy, logistics, operations) and their media technological conditions
  • Cybernetic origins and trajectories of organization and organization theory
  • Collectivism, personalization, and the organized and human body in the current media and technology landscape
  • New technologies of the self and their origins (wearable tech, self-tracking, data science)
  • Organizational ethics, surveillance and secrecy in the digital age

 

References

  • Benjamin, W. (1936) [1968]): “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” In Illuminations, edited by H. Arendt, translated by H. Zohn from the 1936 essay. New York: Schocken Books.
  • Cowen, D. (2014): The Deadly Life of Logistics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Dow Schull, N. (2016): “Data for life: Wearable technology and the design of self-care.” BioSocieties, first online 7 March 2016, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1057/biosoc.2015.47
  • Heidegger, M. (1967): The Question Concerning Technology. New York: Garland.
  • Kittler, F. (1991): Grammophone, Film, Typewriter. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Kittler, F. (2006): “Thinking colours and/or machines.” Theory, Culture & Society, 23 (7/8), 39–50.
  • Light, J.S. (2006): “Facsimile: A forgotten ‘new medium’ for the 20th century.” New Media and Society, 8 (3), 355–378.
  • McLuhan, M. (I964): Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Pasquale, F. (2015): “The Algorithmic Self.” The Hedgehog Review, 17 (1), available at http://www.iasc-culture.org/THR/THR_article_2015_Spring_Pasquale.php.
  • Peters, J.D. (2015): The Marvelous Clouds: Towards a Philosophy of Elemental Media. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Rossiter, N. (2016): Software, Infrastructure, Labour: A Media Theory of Logistical Nightmares. London: Routledge.
  • Simon, H. (1973): “Applying information technology to organizational design.” Public Administration Review, May/June, 268–280.
  • Yates, J. (1989): Control Through Communication. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Zuboff, S. (1988): In the Age of the Smart Machine. New York: Basic Books.
     
Mike Zundel is a Professor and Director of Research at the University of Liverpool, UK. He has a background in banking and in marketing and sales of IT. He studies processual aspects of organization and, increasingly, questions of media and technology.
Armin Beverungen works at the Centre for Digital Cultures at Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany. He holds a PhD in Critical Management Studies from the University of Leicester and now works at the interstices of organization and media theory, currently on a project on algorithmic management. He is a member of the editorial collectives of the journals ‘ephemera’ and ‘spheres’.
Aleksandra Przegalińska is an Assistant Professor at the Center for Research on Organizations and Workplaces and the New Research on Digital Societies Group at Kozminski University in Warsaw, Poland. She holds a PhD in artificial intelligence from the University of Warsaw and she majored in sociology at The New School for Social Research in New York, USA. She currently studies human computer interaction in the organizational context and the quantified self movement.