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National Cancer Institute

Beyond the Organizational ‘Container’: Conceptualizing 21st Century Sociotechnical Work

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Winter S, Berente N, Howison J, Butler B. Beyond the Organizational ‘Container’: Conceptualizing 21st Century Sociotechnical Work. Information and Organization.(in press). Epub

The sociotechnical systems (STS) approach provides a framework that is well suited to grappling with many issues of work in organizations. By conceiving of work systems as mutually-shaping social and technological systems, the STS approach has provided decades of researchers and practitioners with robust analytical tools to consider both the social and the technical elements of organizational contexts. However, we identify two areas where the conceptualization of sociotechnical systems must be updated to reflect the role of information infrastructures as an enabler of trans-organizational work arrangements. First, with its view of nested systems, the STS approach encapsulates work and the infrastructure used to do it within organizations (either explicitly or implicitly) – often leading to a “container” view of organizations as the context of work and a venue for joint optimization of the social and the technical. Second, because work is generally treated as encapsulated within superordinate, nested systems, elements of that work are inherited from those superordinate systems. In this paper we characterize the limitations of industrial age assumptions of organizational encapsulation and inheritance that, rooted in the STS approach, underlie much of traditional information systems scholarship. We then theorize an updated sociotechnical framework (Neo-STS) and apply it to examples of contemporary work situations to highlight the importance and implications of trans-organizational information infrastructures and multidirectional inheritance.

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Type of Publication:

Journal article


work, sociotechnical systems, organizations, infrastructure

Addresses these goal(s):

  • Learn about the field of team science: history, theory and concepts
  • Establish or maintain effective team science endeavors

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Resource created by Lauren Faulkner on 10/8/2014 1:37:39 PM.

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