Hello again, everyone. In this slide deck we’ll talk about some of the concepts in Network chapter 4 – specifically, how activity theory and actor-network theory understand history and change. This discussion is going to be crucial for understanding why people run into impasses and why organizations and people feel the need to change. As usual, I’ll discuss the concepts in the book, but I’ll also bring in other cases to help us understand what’s going on.
So we’ll discuss how each theory understands historical change, we’ll learn how to apply some of these tools, and we’ll actually apply them to cases involving social media.
First, a brief review of salient points from the last chapter. We discussed how activity theory and actor-network theory were “locked in combat,” fighting over the same turf, particularly the notion of sociotechnical networks.Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/maha-online/2163831851/
And we explored the central disagreement between the theories, which is summarized here. They’re both sociocultural theories, they both address sociocultural networks, but they disagree about the first stroke, the first link of a network. Does development come first? Or do interests?As I said, these are two ways of looking at the world, focusing on two different foregrounds. They have different accounts of change.
To explore this disagreement and how it plays out in history, we’ll look at several cases.
One case is Universal Service, which is discussed in Network Chapter 4.
Another is the activity of accident location and analysis, as we discussed in the first slide deck.
Coworking, in which otherwiseunafilliated independent workers choose to work in open-plan spaces for a monthly fee. We discussed coworking during the last slide deck.
IMVU, a startup discussed by Eric Ries in his 2011 book The Lean Startup.Imvu.com
We’ll look at each case in terms of how each theory understands history and change. Network Chapter 4 discusses the history of telecommunications in the US in excruciating detail, but we’ll look at these additional cases so that we can examine these accounts from a variety of angles. Let’s start with one that may be familiar to you.
How does history unfold?Activity theory says that history unrolls like a scroll. Actor-network theory says that it uncrumples like a handkerchief. We’ll take these two in turn.http://www.flickr.com/photos/natematias/229736078/http://www.flickr.com/photos/askthepixel/3008033829/
We’ll start with activity theory’s account: contradictions.
In activity theory, contradictions are the engines of change. They’re like the grain of sand that enters the oyster, irritates it, and becomes the nucleus for a pearl.Contradictions can happen within an activity. Here, for instance, a contradiction has developed between the instrument and the object. The tool isn’t well suited for transforming this particular object.
They could happen in multiple activities that converge on the same objective, but with different outcomes. For instance, this diagram comes from an article I wrote a few years ago about web accessibility: designing websites so that even the visually impaired can use them with the appropriate equipment. Different people want to achieve this object, but to reach different outcomes – personal freedom and productivity, compliance, better user experience, a selling point, immunity to lawsuits. These different outcomes pulled the common object in different ways, creating an embedded contradiction.
They could happen between activities that are linked or chained together, as here. For instance, the object produced by Activity A becomes an instrument for Activity D – but if that instrument is poorly adapted for Activity D, it might develop a contradiction.
And contradictions especially happen at activities that overlap at every or nearly every point. For instance, perhaps you’re involved in a professional organization. After a while, you are elected as an officer. It’s still the same organization, but now you must switch frames when acting as an officer and as a member. And when your term is done, you may have even more trouble NOT switching frames. Another example: Imagine being married to your boss.
And as we discussed last time, sometimes activity networks can overlap in the same space, causing multilevel patterns of contradictions. In each case, these contradictions develop over time. The example here is coworking, in which two different configurations of activities overlap in the same space.
Contradictions develop among material elements. Remember, activity theory is based on dialectical materialism, so it emphasizes material elements and interactions rather than ideal ones. Even when activity theory talks about cognition or communication, it doesn’t treat these as simply happening inside the skull: it examines how they are evidenced materially via observable performance and through artifacts. Contradictions are also transformational. That is, they represent a problem, a systemic misfit among elements, that develops and becomes so severe that at some point it must be solved. The grain of sand, by irritating the oyster, becomes a pearl.By resolving the problem, the actors enact a developmental transformation of the system. It begins working in a qualitatively different way. Let’s examine these a bit more, using the cases of telecommunications, accident analysis, and coworking.
First telecommunications. As we saw in Chapter 4, the telephone system once involved many local companies. They didn’t share lines – they hung their own. These lines didn’t interconnect. And that meant that if you had to keep in contact with people on two different networks, you would need two different subscriptions and two sets of lines running into your office, like separate spigots at a soda fountain. It turns out that this was not a good way of running a business. Telephone companies couldn’t achieve an economy of scale because every new subscriber constituted a separate service: another cable to lay, another handset to supply, another caller whose calls your operators had to route. No wonder so many companies started up, gained subscribers, then went bankrupt. Bell finally solved this problem with the first articulation of Universal Service, which was simply: interoperability. Convincing companies to link up and allow their separate subscribers to connect.
Similarly, the accident location and analysis system we discussed in the first slide deck resulted because of contradictions that developed. The more the Iowa Department of Transportation collected and summarized accident data, the more local analysts wanted additional data and summaries on an accelerated schedule. This contradiction developed to the point that the Iowa DOT commissioned a mainframe application to generate results more quickly.
The more activities that are involved, the more contradictions we might see. For instance, in coworking, proprietors supply meeting places for multiple discrete activities. As these activities come into contact, we can begin to see patterns of contradictions developing, and we can predict future changes in coworking by examining how people are currently handling those contradictions. These contradictions are early indicators that coworking is beginning to focus on different market segments.
In all three of these cases, activities develop and become more complex over time, forging wider connections and also dividing and specializing. Contradictions are the engines of these changes, pushing the activities to develop in certain ways – to evolve, as it were.As we discussed last time, activities develop contradictions at various points: sometimes within the activity system, sometimes between them.
For instance, as we saw in the first slide deck, whenever the Iowa DOT added new technologies to their accident location and analysis system, they were actually adding new instruments, new genres with their own logics and systems of representation.These new genres were heaped onto the old ones, forming a discohesive genre ecology. Eventually contradictions actually built up among these genres, with their different logics and traditions. When something like this happens, it tends to lead to new transformations – such as new information systems (ALAS) or new understandings of the enterprise (universal service in Network Chapter 4).http://www.flickr.com/photos/calistan/5044082999/
One more thing. Activities don’t just develop, they divide – they weave by diverging. For instance, as I investigated Telecorp, departments were routinely split to better define the division of labor. Customer Service became too burdened with data entry, so the first week I was there, Telecorp split off a department: Customer Service Data Entry.
How do we apply contradictions to social media? First, let’s take a case Eric Ries discusses in his book The Lean Startup. Ries was the CTO of IMVU, a startup that wanted to connect instant messaging with virtual reality avatars. Initially, the idea was to create avatars you could use to interact virtually with your friends. Your friends might be on different IM networks such as AIM, Yahoo Messenger, or iChat – which might sit on your desktop like separate spigots at a soda fountain. But IMVU would interoperate with all of them, serving as a sort of universal service for connecting your friends across all of these networks. Users hated it. Adoption at first was incredibly low. In fact, in IMVU’s in-house tests, users enjoyed creating avatars and using them to chat with strangers. They enjoyed meeting new people anonymously. But they did NOT want to tie together their IM networks, and they certainly did not want to allow these strangers in their AIM buddy lists. They were strangers!Ries says that he and the others at IMVU had a hard time accepting this. He kept dismissing what the test users were saying, assuming that they simply didn’t represent IMVU’s market. But every new batch of test users said the same thing. Meanwhile, IMVU’s usage stats remained essentially flat.http://www.imvu.com/
Ries had seen his product as a way to help old friends interact in new ways in the same place. That’s what would make the service sticky. But the test users consistently told him they didn’t want that. They wanted a way to create virtual identities and use them to meet new friends who also had virtual identities. In essence, he wanted a clubhouse and they wanted a costume party.The two objectives implied different products, different services, different marketing strategies – in fact, they implied that IMVU would have to pivot.As Ries makes clear, they could very well have ignored this issues and consequently failed in the marketplace, chasing after nonexistent users. But instead they decided to pivot. They wrote off the sunk costs in the first option, including a considerable amount of interoperability code that Ries had written himself. And they reformed their strategy.
But they didn’t capitulate – they synthesized their vision with what the customers would accept. That synthesis involved changing the product, of course, but also the process and internal structure of the company. Ries instituted a set of continual feedback metrics to better regulate this synthesis, building a product and service that helped users discover needs they didn’t know they had. IMVU had addressed their contradiction by fundamentally, qualitatively changing the way they worked.
It worked. The flat growth became steep growth.We’ll return to this story in a few minutes. But for now, notice what activity theory contributes. It allows us to see the activity as ongoing and structural; it helps us to identify points of friction; and it lets us examine how responses to those frictions can yield qualitative transformations across the entire activity.
As you can imagine, translation is a very different account.
Translation is actor-network theory’s account of change. It’s an account of settlements that accrete, layer by layer, through a process that includes ProblematizationInteressementEnrollmentMobilization
As we have discussed, actor-network theory starts with political-rhetorical alliances: points at which two or more actants find their interests have aligned. Think of these alliances, agreements, or relations as layers of sediment. The more layered they are, the more intermediated they are, the more stable their formation will be.New agreements are built on top of, and settle on the contours of, older ones. http://www.flickr.com/photos/jkirkhart35/1836841937/
Like contradictions, translations develop among material elements. But the focus is on how these elements relate to each other. As Latour says, like Machiavelli, we must follow these relationships wherever they lead. And when we treat humans and nonhumans the same way, we are focusing on their relations rather than their properties. Like contradictions, translations are transformational. That is, translations start with a problematization, a recognition (or invention) of a problem. They then bring together actors to address that problem. Through layers of relationships, they lock these actors into place, defining them and splicing their relationships tightly enough that they hold together, like a net. These accumulations are contingencies, stabilized-for-now.The entire assemblage then acts to transform the problem, and it begins working in a qualitatively different way. This transformation is due not to development but to associations. Such alliances can fall apart – and constantly do so, unless they’re maintained. As I mentioned earlier, in actor-network theory, history unfolds less like a scroll and more like a crumpled handkerchief.
Consider the case we discussed earlier: IMVU. Earlier, we discussed IMVU in terms of contradictions. But we can also apply translation to it, and we get different insights.http://www.imvu.com/
Take this key quote. From the standpoint of translation, we see a different side of the change.
In terms of translation, IMVU can be seen as undergoing a political-rhetorical process in which they must define their product and service, then attract others to take roles related to it. Critically, they had to get at least some actors to accept the role of paying customers! And they had to get all these moving pieces to cohere enough for people to be able to identify with and use the service.What really stands out in Ries’ book The Lean Startup is that Ries put a process into place that essentially patrols usage and continually adjusts the service to keep it together. It continually tests these alliances so that IMVU can further problematize, interesse, enroll, and mobilize.
So we’ve examined several cases and applied contradictions and translations to them. At this point, you should get the gist of these two ways of understanding history and change. And we’ve also gone through a case study of applying these concepts to social media.
So here’s an exercise you can conduct on your own. (For step-by-step instructions, see my book Topsight.)
But you’ll “counterprogram” it with an actor-network theory analysis by examining each component of your activity system.Pick out one element of an activity system – perhaps the subject, object, or a tool. Then work backwards by using translation. Imagine that you’re stripping off layers that have historically accumulated on the element, making it cohere.
How are Networks Historicized? Clay Spinuzzi Clay.firstname.lastname@example.org How to improve information flow in 1 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
Value• Learn how to apply key theoretical concepts (contradictions and translation) to historical changes.• Learn how activity theory and actor-network theory conceptualize and investigate historical changes.• Apply concepts to social media. How to improve information flow in 2 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
How to improve information flow in 3organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
The Central Disagreement• Activity theory: Development precedes and underpins political-rhetorical interests [weaving]• Actor-network theory: Political-rhetorical interests precede and underpin development [splicing] How to improve information flow in 4 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
CASES How to improve information flow in 5 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
Universal Service How to improve information flow in 6 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
Accident Location and Analysis How to improve information flow in 7 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
CoworkingHow to improve information flow in 8organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
IMVUHow to improve information flow in 9organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
HISTORY AND CHANGE How to improve information flow in 10 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
How to improve information flow in 11organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
Activity TheoryCONTRADICTIONS How to improve information flow in 12 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
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Spinuzzi, C. (2007). Accessibility scans and institutional activity: An activity theory analysis.How to improve information flow inorganizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi College English, 70(2). 14
Spinuzzi, C. (2011). Losing by Expanding: Corralling the Runaway Object. Journal ofHow to improve information flow in Business and Technical 15organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi Communication, 25(4).
How to improve information flow in 16organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
Client Client ClientClient How to improve information flow in 17 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
Contradictions are…• Material• Transformational• Developmental How to improve information flow in 18 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
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Client Client ClientClient How to improve information flow in 21 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
Client ClientHow to improve information flow in 22organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi Client Client
How to improve information flow in 23organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
How to improve information flow in 24organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
Ries, Eric. (2011). The Lean Startup. New York: Crown Business. How to improve information flow in 25 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
IMVU’s contradiction• Object: IMVU ties together existing friends with real-life identities. Vs.• Object: IMVU allows users to discover new friends with virtual identities. How to improve information flow in 26 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
IMVU’s Pivot• “We adopted the view that our job was to find a synthesis between our vision and what customers would accept; it wasn’t to capitulate to what customers thought they wanted or to tell customers what they ought to want.” (Reis 2011, p.50) How to improve information flow in 27 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
IMVU’s Pivot• “Once we pivoted away from the original strategy, things began to change. Aligned with a superior strategy, our product development efforts became magically more productive – not because we were working harder but because we were working smarter, aligned with our customers’ real needs.” (Reis 2011, p.51) How to improve information flow in 28 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
Exercise: Contradictions• Examine one tool in your own case. What problem is it trying to solve? What frictions caused it to develop? How to improve information flow in 29 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
Actor-Network TheoryTRANSLATION How to improve information flow in 30 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
3. Translationa. Problematizationb. Interessementc. Enrollmentd. Mobilization How to improve information flow in 31 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
How to improve information flow in 32organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
Translations are…• Material• Transformational• Associational How to improve information flow in 33 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
Universal Service is …• The principle of universal interconnection (1907)• Total market penetration (early 1970s)• Universally obtainable slates of services (1996) How to improve information flow in 34 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
1996 1987 1995 1898How to improve information flow in 35organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
Translation: Multilateral Negotiation• Problematization. What must be accomplished or negotiated?• Interessement. What stakeholders are involved in the negotiation?• Enrollment. How do these stakeholders relate—how do they negotiate?• Mobilization. How can the stakeholders be persuaded to link up and accomplish the objectives? How to improve information flow in 36 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
• How could Bell hold onto the market after patents ran out? • How could competing telecomms defeat the problem of no economy of scale? • How could municipalities ensure phone coverage? • How could individuals get a single line with simple, affordable service? • How could the federal government promote national good?Problematization: Actors define eachother. Of an infinite range of actors, theseemerge. How to improve information flow in organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi 37
• Independent telecomms had to interconnect to keep themselves relevant by linking to shared subscriber universe. • Bell had to interconnect to expand into local markets. • Municipalities had to escape boom-bust cycle.Interessement: Actors lock each other intoplace -- they define their interests ascongruent. How to improve information flow in organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi 38
• Telecomms and Bell sign interconnection agreements. • Bell denies long distance service and subscriber universe to those who won’t sign. • Municipalities favor interconnection. • Federal government begins regulating. • Market is divided between long distance and local.Enrollment: Multilateral negotiationsenable interessement. How to improve information flow in 39 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
• By the mid-1920s, Bell had consolidated the market and become a de facto monopoly, a “natural monopoly.”Mobilization: Actors choose aspokesperson, link up, and accomplishobjectives. How to improve information flow in organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi 40
Ries, Eric. (2011). The Lean Startup. New York: Crown Business. How to improve information flow in 41 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
IMVU’s Pivot“We adopted the view that our job was to find asynthesis between our vision and whatcustomers would accept; it wasn’t to capitulateto what customers thought they wanted or totell customers what they ought to want.” (Reis2011, p.50) How to improve information flow in 42 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
IMVU’s Translation• Problematization: How do we build a product that people want to use?• Interessement: Who will be involved in IMVU, and how? What is our job, what is our market, and how will we interoperate with other IM networks?• Enrollment: How do we get those actors to choose sides? How do we get people to accept their role as paying customers?• Mobilization: How do we wrap up our code, interoperability, market, processes, etc. and call it “IMVU”? How to improve information flow in 43 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
Exercise: Translations• Examine a tool from your case. Strip away the layers of translation.• 4. How has it been mobilized?• 3. How have actors been enrolled?• 2. How were those actors interessed?• 1. What problematized the situation in order to interesse them? How to improve information flow in 44 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
Takeaways• Know how to apply key theoretical concepts (contradictions and translation) to historical changes.• Understand how activity theory and actor- network theory conceptualize and investigate historical changes.• Understand how to apply concepts to social media. How to improve information flow in 45 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
Exercise: Examining Contradictions• Go back to your ASDs and ANDs for your work case. Trace backwards to the contradictions that led to the current configuration. How did they get here?• Look at the ASD and trace the origins of some of the more commonly used tools. Why were these tools brought in? From what other activities did they come?• Speculate how current contradictions indicate upcoming changes. What will they be? How to improve information flow in 46 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi
Exercise: Examining TranslationsApply translation to an ASD:• 4. How has an element been mobilized?• 3. How have actants within that element been enrolled?• 2. How were those actants interessed (locked into place by their relations)?• 1. How was the issue problematized in such a way as to attract the actants? How to improve information flow in 47 organizations (c) 2011 Clay Spinuzzi