Contested Terrain: Place, Work, and Organizational Identities

Contested Terrain: Place, Work, and Organizational Identities

John Willy Bakke (Telenor Research and Innovation, Norway)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-020-2.ch004
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Workplaces are key loci for expressing and studying organizational identity, even in distributed work. In organization studies, there is a growing recognition of the importance of spatial processes, and workplace design has become an instrument for organizational change. This chapter explores organizational identity through a change process where the office layout was redesigned to strengthen organizational identity and increase productivity. The study shows that identity processes get shaped by the material environment and by technologies enabling distributed and mobile work. It also shows that previous events frame the interpretation of current processes. The chapter is based on a qualitative and quantitative study of the national branch of an international oil company.
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[T]he physical setting is not a naked container for organizational action […], but a context that selectively solicits – and hence, so to speak, ‘cultivates’ – all our senses

- Gagliardi (1996, p. 565)

The goal of this chapter is to strengthen the understanding of workplaces as key loci for expressing and studying organizational processes, even in distributed and “location-independent” work. A starting point for this chapter is the observation that there has been a change of focus in organization studies, where place has strengthened its explanatory role in discourses of organizational processes during the past decade. The interest in organizational space and place is expressed in the growing interest in workplace design as a source for understanding and shaping organizational processes, and the incorporation of spatiality and corporeality in social science studies (cf. Benko & Strohmayer, 1997; Bourdieu, 2000). The argument is substantiated through a qualitative and quantitative study of the national branch of an international oil company. This case study explored identity processes where workplace design and technologies entered the discourses on organizational identity and other organizational processes.

The interest in space planning and placemaking is a practical concern in enterprises, of which the growing number of handbooks and consultancy offers is an indication (cf. Duffy, 1997). The case company informing this chapter was about to go through a process of workplace restructuring when the authors were contacted in order to make a study. Through the case study, it turned out that in addition to the current changes, a previous restructuring made more than 10 years ago was still seen as an important event in the corporate history, and an issue for discussions about organizational identity.

This interest in place, space, and spatiality may be seen as a puzzle, since it emerged in the aftermath of the “digital revolution,” where information and communication technologies (ICT) were seen to supersede a number of traditional social categories, promising an annihilation of the role of locality and distance, whereby a friction-free society will be achieved. This perspective is expressed in a series of titles in popular writing, such as The death of distance, The weightless economy, and The digital nomad (Cairncross, 1997; Coyle, 1998; Makimoto & Manners, 1997), and is also found in the emergent literature on the networked society (cf. Castells, 1996).

In the area of workplace studies, one can find similar expressions: In a pioneering study of teleworking, it was argued that: “The office – the site where information is generated, processed and exchanged – has ceased to have any fixed geographical boundaries. It exists only as a network – the ‘elusive office’ has arrived” (Huws, Korte, & Robinson, 1990: 220). Nevertheless, companies are still interested in architecture and space solutions, and workplace policies seem to uphold the importance of “coming to work” in a literal sense, although workplace practices have become more complex than the choice between the main office and the home-based workplace, as depicted in the early telework studies. This development makes it even more important to address the role of place for mobile, flexible, and “location-independent” work.


Space And Organizational Processes

The growing interest in space and spatiality has been termed a “spatial turn” in the social sciences (cf. Benko & Strohmayer, 1997). This spatial turn represents a reaction to a dominant orientation in the social sciences, where “the social” is interpreted in immaterial terms:

[M]ost of the research and analysis published in the arena of organizational theories and management studies describe the following, somewhat bizarre phenomenon: as soon as the human person crosses virtual or physical threshold of an organization, s/he is purged of corporeality, so only his or her mind remains (Strati, 1999, p. 3).

Complete Chapter List

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Table of Contents
Chapter 1
Alan Dix
Map, mazes, myths, magic, and mathematics, computation, cognition, community, and the constructed environment, all reveal something of our internal... Sample PDF
Paths and Patches: Patterns of Geognosy and Gnosis
Chapter 2
Jon Kerridge
This chapter concerns the question of how people navigate through a space in which other people are also present. Issues addressed include how the... Sample PDF
Let's Meander Through a Measured Space
Chapter 3
Matthew Leach
The Speckled Computing project is a large multisite research project based in Scotland, UK. The aim of the project is to investigate, prototype, and... Sample PDF
Navigating a Speckled World: Interacting with Wireless Sensor Networks
Chapter 4
John Willy Bakke
Workplaces are key loci for expressing and studying organizational identity, even in distributed work. In organization studies, there is a growing... Sample PDF
Contested Terrain: Place, Work, and Organizational Identities
Chapter 5
Anne Sofie Laegran
The chapter is based on a study of Internet cafés in Norway, and interrogates the way space and place is produced in interconnections between people... Sample PDF
Technosocial Space: Connecting People and Places
Chapter 6
Lynne Hall
This chapter discusses artists’ use of virtual space to collaboratively create a digital stained-glass rose window. It explores the use of virtual... Sample PDF
Reconfiguring the Rose: An Exploration of the Use of Virtual Space by Artists Collaboratively Creating Digital Stained Glass
Chapter 7
Elin K. Jacob
In distinguishing between space and place, one approach is to contrast the physicality of space with the sociality of place: space directs attention... Sample PDF
Context, Boundedness, and Structure: The Apprehension of Place in the Development of Information Environments
Chapter 8
Richard Coyne
The widespread use of mobile telephony prompts a reevaluation of the role of the aural sense in spatial understanding. There are clear correlations... Sample PDF
Voice and Space: Agency of the Acousmêtre in Spatial Design
Chapter 9
Susan Turner
This chapter considers the role of sound, and more specifically, listening, in creating a sense of presence (of “being there”) in “places” recreated... Sample PDF
Listening, Corporeality, Place and Presence
Chapter 10
Stephen Boyd Davis
The chapter is concerned with the relationship between the planar space of graphic representations and the world space that they represent. To... Sample PDF
Representing Space: The Pictorial Imperative
Chapter 11
Fiona Carroll
The art of the visual-narrative is not a new phenomenon. Artists and designers have been using images to tell stories for thousands of years. From... Sample PDF
The Spatial Development of the Visual-Narrative from Prehistoric Cave Paintings to Computer Games
Chapter 12
Shaleph O’Neill
The Situationists defined the increasingly spectacularized society (The Society of the Spectacle ) as the alienation of the individual by an... Sample PDF
The Interactive Spectacle and the Digital Situationist
Chapter 13
Shaun Lawson
People use spatial language in everyday face-to-face conversation, and we also now use such language during everyday computer-mediated interactions.... Sample PDF
Spatial Language in Computer Mediated Communication
Chapter 14
Phil Turner
Recent years have witnessed a number of initiatives to develop technology (“memory prosthetics”) to enhance and extend human memory. Typical of... Sample PDF
Space, Place, and Memory Prosthetics
Chapter 15
Julian Warner
This chapter is concerned with exposing the material basis for the concepts of the syntagm and paradigm from linguistics, and the message and... Sample PDF
Materializing Communication Concepts: Linearity and Surface in Linguistics and Information Theory
Chapter 16
Sándor Darányi, Péter Wittek
Current methods of automatic indexing, automatic classification, and information retrieval treat index and query terms, that is, vocabulary units in... Sample PDF
On Information, Meaning, Space and Geometry
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