The Role of Objects in CCO: Rennstam on “Object-control”

Materiality is nocell-phone-1t 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).

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