Sociomaterial Processes of Category Emergence and Naturalization


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This presentation accompanied a talk I gave at the 2012 Academy of Management Annual Meeting in Boston.

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Sociomaterial Processes of Category Emergence and Naturalization

  1. 1. Sociomaterial Processes of Category Emergence and Performance Joel Gehman Academy of Management Cultural Entrepreneurship PDW August 3, 2012
  2. 2. 2 Ongoing research program… Categorization by Association: Nuclear Technology and Emission-Free Electricity, Research in the Sociology of Work, 21: 51-93 With Raghu Garud and Peter Karnøe Part of a volume that was just reviewed by Klaus Weber in Administrative Sciences Quarterly
  3. 3. 3 Past approaches to categories Essential Properties – Materially anchored and objectively given Institutional Effects – Legitimacy is institutionally given, embedded in logics Social Forces – Shaped by the competing ways groups categorize entities in use Entrepreneurial Efforts – Constituted by skills, interests, resources of their creators
  4. 4. 4 How to trace all four? Sociology of Associations (e.g., Callon, 1986; Latour, 1986, 2005; Law & Hassard, 1999) Allows us to trace associations between heterogeneous material, institutional, social, and entrepreneurial elements Views translation is the mechanism whereby such heterogeneous assemblages are (re)configured over time
  5. 5. 5 Description vs. evaluation Categories are used in two different ways 1.Categories may used to describe something – e.g., ‘nuclear power’ points to a certain configuration of sociomaterial arrangements recognizable as such 2.But as categories such as ‘sustainable’ and ‘emission free’ become associated with nuclear power they constitute evaluative qualities
  6. 6. 6 Another piece of the puzzle Categorical Cleaning: An Exploratory Study of Sustainability Induced Divestitures, 1992-2010, AOM Session #981, Monday: 11:30 am – 1:00 pm in Sheraton Fairfax B Selected for the OMT Award for Best Paper on Environmental and Social Practices
  7. 7. 7 7 GE 2008 Citizenship Report, p. 41 2004 2005 2006 2007 U.S. Toxic Emissions (in millions of pounds) 5.00 4.92 3.09 0.42
  8. 8. 8 Of concern and contamination Emerging category of concern: Organizing systems (devices, labels, symbols) for describing and evaluating relations between social and material actors that provoke discussion and debate (Latour, 2004, “matters of concern”) e.g., apartheid, child labor, hydraulic fracturing, climate change, etc. Categorical contamination: Process whereby social and material relations become negatively evaluated by audiences because of their entanglement with an emerging category of concern (Douglas, 1966/2005, “pollution” and “dirt”)
  9. 9. 9 Theoretical propositions Hypothesis 1: Categorical contamination is positively related to subsequent divestiture Hypothesis 2: Contaminated firms targeted by shareholders activists are more likely to subsequently divest than non-targeted firms Hypothesis 3: Contaminated firms that produce sustainability reports are more likely to subsequently divest than non-reporting firms
  10. 10. 10 Some findings Categorical contamination appears consequential to divestitures Sustainability as a core strategic issue: What businesses should we be in? (e.g., Andrews, 1971) New perspective: organizational boundaries as responding to emerging cultural concerns
  11. 11. 11 Some take aways… Categories implicate materiality, institutions, social concerns and entrepreneurial efforts Categories are not given, but constituted through ongoing processes of emergence and performance Categories have evaluative consequences for technologies and organizations Categories are sites for organizing concerns, and these are continually in-the-making
  12. 12. Thank You!!!