The Role of Objects in CCO: Rennstam on “Object-control”Posted: December 18, 2012
Materiality is not an unfamiliar concept to CCO scholars. In fact, understanding the role of objects, bodies, and spaces is one of the most interesting challenges for CCO theorizing. In his recent article, Object-Control: A Study of Technologically Dense Knowledge Work published in Organization Studies, Rennstam (2012) advances a theoretical framework to investigate the role of organizational objects in processes of control in knowledge work. His framework articulates the concept of object-control, or how objects participate in organizational processes of control by interpellating organizational members. More specifically, object-control shows how objects 1) establish knowledge relationships, 2) stabilize the formal organization, and 3) rearrange those relationships, enabling elicitation of organizational knowledge. Rennstam documents object- control through an analysis of a technology redesign process, from its inception to its eventual dissolution. The analysis shows how the technology was a site of struggle between different actors who were interpellated by the technology in different ways, how the technology was a stabilizer of formal organizational relationships through reminders of the past (as previous bodies of knowledge were materialized or made present by the technology), and how the technology “acts back” through a material limitation in its design, ultimately prompting the (non-hierarchical) decision to abandon the technology redesign all together.
The concept of object-control makes several contributions to CCO scholarship. First, object-control is a practice-based alternative to normative control; an explanation amenable to organization as an ongoing accomplishment. This alternative shows how objects give rise to temporary knowledge communities, and thus can play a role in the governance of knowledge directly, operating inside the labor process rather than through norms and values shaped by managers at a distance. Second, object-control extends theory about objects in CCO by theorizing knowledge objects as participants in knowing.
To stimulate thought about materiality in CCO, I leave you with a few questions posed by Rennstam: “On behalf of which objects do people speak?” “How do objects of knowledge interpellate various actors to speak on their behalf?” (p. 1086).