Boundaryless Work and the Role of Mobile ICT

Boundaryless Work and the Role of Mobile ICT

Ragnhild Mogren (Stockholm University, Sweden) and Camilla Thunborg (Stockholm University, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-906-0.ch056
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The change of structures of work towards fewer boundaries in time, space and tasks are sometimes referred to as boundaryless work. ICT is pointed out as one cause of this tendency. The aim of this chapter is to discuss the role of mobile ICT in the forming of the borderland between work and non-work and the identities formed in relation to this borderland: how is mobile ICT used in work and non-work, how is this use related to the forming of a borderland between work and non-work, what are the characteristics of the identities formed in this borderland? Narratives of experience of mobile ICT practices are analysed by means of social theories. The results show that mobile ICT is used as a boundary object between work and non-work. In distinguishing between functions and artefacts, between time and space, different identities are formed: extended work identity, border identity and boundaryless identity.
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The changes of structures of work towards fewer boundaries in time, space and tasks are sometimes referred to as boundaryless work (Allvin et al., 2006; Hagström, 2007; Ohlsson, 2008). The emergence of the network society is, together with other structural changes related to post-industrial society, pointed out as a source of this tendency (Aronsson, 2005).

The research of Allvin et al. (2006) points out that traditional structures – such as time and space – tend to be replaced in the “new working life” by actors’ setting boundaries of their own. In her research on teleworkers and freelance reporters, Hansson (2004) studied the characteristics of work conditions in flexible work settings and how the actors handled these conditions. Hagström (2007) focuses on the different kinds of competence needed to orient oneself and act autonomously in boundaryless work settings. His results indicate that the more boundaryless the work context is, the greater the demand is for collective and existential competence.

Some studies related to boundaryless work are concerned with the problem of coping with the border between work and other spheres of life. According to Allvin et al. (2006), a general feature of these studies is the tendency that work intrudes on non-work rather than the opposite. Kylin (2007) studied the interaction between work and non-work in home-based telework. Her study shows that flexible work arrangements seem to bring about a need for new ways of differentiation, since the boundaries are needed both to structure and legitimise work and to mark detachment from work.

Fenwick (2006) studied workers in boundaryless employment and their daily negotiation of tasks, objects, knowledge and relationships. She calls these processes “nomadic movements” and argues that these should be characterised as working the boundaries rather than setting them, because in boundaryless work people and contexts are always changing. Salamoun Sioufi and Greenhill (2007) discuss the role of ICT in boundaryless work practices in terms of nomadism. From their point of view, the concept of nomadism brings to the fore the actors’ conditions of crossing boundaries, as well as constituting new boundaries by means of the use of ICT. According to them, the crossing of old boundaries and the constitution of new ones contribute to the formation of an identity as a nomad.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Boundary Object: An object with the capacity of translating between different viewpoints. In this study the cell phone is seen as a boundary object, mediating between work and non-work practices.

Mobile ICT: Mobile information and communication technology, the cell phone and other more advanced mobile artefacts which offer tools and services for web browsing, e-mail and more, such as the PDA, the BlackBerry or the I-phone.

Borderland: A social practice where the boundary between diverse social practices – especially practices related to work and non-work – is negotiated.

Identity: The concept of identity is related to definitions of “who I am” and “are coming to be” in relation to different life situations and experiences. In this chapter, a social perspective of identity is used. Identity is defined here in terms of how actors present themselves in relation to or with reference to others.

Social Practice: A way of stressing the social embeddedness of all human activity. In this chapter, social practice is defined as a relation between the continuous flow of human activity and its order across time and space.

Boundary: Boundaries exist when there are two territories, spaces or areas whose limits or extent can be determined. They are defined as continuities and discontinuities. They are not sharp lines of demarcation, but they do reflect the specificity of different enterprises and an ongoing production of local identities and meanings.

Boundaryless Work: A way of talking about the tendency of changed structures of work towards fewer boundaries in time, space and tasks.

Mediating Artefact: The interaction between actors and tools when they act or experience the world. In this chapter the concept is used to understand the embeddedness of mobile ICT in social practices. It can be physical as well as linguistic.

Community Of Practice: A special type of social practice which is constituted by a mutual engagement, a negotiation of a joint enterprise and by a shared repertoire of, for example, symbols and by language.

Nomadism: A way of talking about the actors’ conditions of crossing boundaries, as well as constituting new boundaries by means of the use of mobile ICT.

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