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A Cultural Critique of Organizational Change: Getting in Touch with Reality Stream: Social Networks

Ard Huizing
University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Bas Smit
University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Vanessa Dirksen
University of Kanstanz, Germany

In organizations, change ideas are often implemented as ‘instruments of modernity’ (Giddens, 1991) prescribing a unified pattern of work, behavior and thought (Suchman, 1995). Reflecting a strong belief in the engineerability of organizational reality, they generally serve the purpose of improving management control. A cultural critique of organizational change entails investigation of how such change ideas evolve from discourse to praxis, how they are received by the organization’s relevant social groups (Bijker et al., 1987), and how they impact everyday organizational life. For that, we performed an ethnographic study in a large IT firm where we followed a change project that was aimed at improving the organization’s learning capabilities through the concept of virtual community. By contrasting the organizational discourse around this concept, the intentions and appropriations of the firm’s management and moderators, and the responses of the employees, we describe how the introduction of this modern change idea caused a dynamic interplay of negotiation in which numerous divergences and tensions between the practice espoused and actual practice played a decisive role. For a deeper understanding of this dynamic interplay, the larger part of this paper unravels the cumulative layers of meaning employees attached to the virtual community idea. The first layer involves actors taking a stand vis- -vis the technology and the organizational practice in which it is applied. The second layer illustrates that the appropriations of the employees are based upon the relational and situational nature of their professional identity. In this way, we deconstruct the boundaries of the virtual communities imposed, and show the networks of belonging with which the employees truly identify. In other words, we demonstrate how prescriptive instruments of modernity can lead to an artificialization of organizational life and suggest that fostering people’s passion for knowledge and their identification with the organization could provide a more productive alternative.

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Reference:Huizing, A., Smit, B., Dirksen, V. (2005). "A Cultural Critique of Organizational Change: Getting in Touch with Reality Stream: Social Networks," University of Amsterdam, Netherlands . Sprouts: Working Papers on Information Systems, 5(8). http://sprouts.aisnet.org/5-8
Keywords:ethnography, social networks, social network analysis, virtual communities, and organizational control
Item Type:Article - Volume 5 Article 8 (2005)
Email: Ard Huizing (a.huizing@uva.nl)
Bas Smit (bassmit@uva.nl)
Vanessa Dirksen ( vanessa.dirksen@uni-konstanz.de,)
Related Link(s):http://primavera.feb.uva.nl/scripts/abstract.php?id=201

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