Infopolitics

Infopolitics

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5986-5.ch006
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Abstract

This chapter discusses informing politics (infopolitics), which is defined in terms of power, agendas, and flight/fight behaviors related to organizational informing agents. The phenomena of infopolitics are tracked back to the relevant literature in the fields of information systems and organization theory. The central concept in infopolitics is that of infopower. Infopower is defined, illustrated by examples from the literature, and grounded in structuration theory. Manipulative communication techniques, which may go unnoticed in organizations, are discussed and their relationships with infopolitics demonstrated. The discussion further covers a three-member categorization of resource-based infopower: data/IT control, expert power, and meaning management. In addition, alternative ontological views based on the premises of symbol, institution and object are proposed as a way of expanding theorizing on infopower. It is argued that information systems could impose themselves as the symbols of autonomy and domination (symbol infopower), and act adrift from designer's intentions (actant's informing influence). The chapter also discusses other elements of infopolitics. Infopolitical agenda is conceptualized in terms of goals, strategies, and tactics related to achieving and maintaining infopower. Infopolitical fight is defined in terms of a struggle for achieving one's infopolitical agenda, and infopolitical flight is referred to negotiations and coalition making aiming at achieving one's infopolitical agenda. All these concepts are traced to the relevant literature and demonstrated by a case study.
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Introduction

This chapter discusses politics of informing or informing politics, infopolitics, for short. This is another segment in the IVO framework. As is the case with other perspective shifts IVO advocates that have been discussed in previous chapters, the intention here is to complement the political perspective on organization with a focus on organizational informing agents. We will look at the literature that is useful for conceptualizing infopolitics, constitutive realms of infopolitics—infopower, infopolitical agendas, and fight/flight behaviors that have to do with infopower and infopolitical agendas. Categorizations of infopower will be proposed, and a case demonstrating the concepts of infopolitics will be presented.

Social power related to informing agents—infopower—takes the central place in our discussion of infopolitics. As a social phenomenon, power is omnipresent. It is conceived a major force in the social world. Still, power persistently evades understanding. This is due to many reasons, not the least important being a multidimensionality and an opaque disposition of power. This multidimensional character is indicated in many labels used for the phenomena that are believed to belong to the realm of power—control, influence, domination, subjugation, decision making authority, to name the few most conspicuous. For some researchers, these are distinct aspects of power, which merit defining. Others use the terms interchangeably as synonyms, and yet others sense that differences exist but give up pinning them down. The multidimensionality of power is also manifest in mutually incongruent typologies of power created within different research traditions.

Power is usually conceived in terms of a relationship that involves two sides, subjects A and B. Subjects A and B have different roles determined by an asymmetry in resources and enabling the privileged subject A to effect a change in conduct of B. Theorizing on the roles of A and B and on their relation has engendered some of the deepest divisions in the history of social science. The range spans from numerous variants of the master/slave model to modeling power in a dialectical way, where notions of mutual interdependence and exchange between A and B are essential. Big themes of action, institution, domination, and submission intersect in the realm of power. The pool of theoretical divides appears to be limitless. Take the issue of intention or awareness as an example. For a power relationship to work, does it suffice that A is intention-driven, or both A and B must have intentions? Could B intentionally change conduct without A’s intentional involvement? Or could it so happen that power is exerted without either party’s being aware of this? Different answers to these questions result in different conceptualizations of power.

The opaque disposition of power equally dares the researcher. In contrast to Hollywood’s Machiavellian portrayals of corporate reality, the manifestations of power in real organizations tend to be subtler. The official register of authority attached to management positions, of course, is of some help. But it reveals merely the tip of the iceberg. While power is the central political phenomenon in organizations (as anywhere else), the politics of power tend to hide this very same fact. The most effective affirmations of a power establishment are stricken when organization members truly believe that they work in the best possible organization and that their leaders are extraordinarily smart, fearless, generous or in some other way unique. Charismatic power may be fed by subliminal sources that resist detection. Nonetheless difficult is it to discern power in horizontal relationships as occasioned in communication networks. And the naked eye can be of no more help concerning vertical relationships in which power is exerted opposite to the conventional direction—bottom-up. Although less investigated, this modus was introduced by French and Raven’s (1959) classical typology of power and even more so by Giddens (1979, 1984).

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