Infostructure

Infostructure

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5986-5.ch004
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Abstract

This chapter introduces the topic of informing structure (infostructure). Infostructure refers to stable patterns of relationships between data segments and in information technology arrangements. Infostructure parallels and complements the formal social structure of organization. The discussion covers infostructure dimensions called infohierarchy, infocentralization, infoformalization, infodispersion, and infofragmentation. It is argued that changes in infostructure introduced by new information systems (IS) are indispensable for changing organizational structure and often spearhead it. Extremes in some infostructural dimensions can indicate problems in organizational structure. The perspective of informal organizational structure is equally important. It has regained importance with the advent of Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) and social media. Informal structure can be identified via network theory and analysis, and the perspective of infostructure can assist in such an investigation. The chapter also discusses technology and its information technology (IT) branch. It is argued that organization scholars think of technology in broad, abstract terms, blending it into a larger social frame of transformational process. This approach typically does not address specific information technologies, with an exception made in hi-tech research. In contrast, IS scholars usually think of information technologies in reference to computers, deploying materialistic and social ontologies. The chapter closes by discussing the IVO concept of IT. IT is defined as part of IS as materialized in terms of tools, devices, and machines whose purpose is to manipulate data. The IS stance is appropriate for discussing ontologies of IT. In particular, discussed are ontologies of technological imperative, strategic choice (action), cognition, institution, structuration, and emerging process.
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Introduction

Understanding organizations as social structures—that is, as stable patterns of social relationships—has been for long one of the most influential paradigms. For many, organizations still are mainly or even exclusively social structures. That is to say, they are social entities that embody different patterns of differentiating and integrating work. The concept of social structure was introduced in the early 20th century by the German sociologist Max Weber (1946), and later expanded and enriched with contributions of the British Aston group (see Pugh & Hickson, 1989) and others (e.g., Blau & Schoenherr, 1971). This is usually called theory of formal organizational structure. Formal social structure of organizations includes stable patterns of both horizontal division of labor (specialized organizational units such as departments and teams) and vertical division of labor (hierarchy), of work design (specialization), of reinforcement (formal rules and regulations, span of management control, and again managerial hierarchy), and so on. This approach paints a static (conservative) picture of organization. A humorous remark characterizes memorably this approach by the motto that organizations change as often as graveyards.

Another important segment of organizational structure concerns those social relationships that emerge spontaneously and acquire stability even if they stay permanently non-regulated. This segment is informal social structure, which builds on different notions, such as the grapevine, informal ties, and networking. This view of social structure brings in dynamism because exchange, interaction, and communication are the central concepts. A network with no interactions and communicative exchanges is no-network. The concept of informal structure borders with the notion of action, since the social network is enacted through interactions of members. Thus, the distance between the antipodes of action and structure is shortened.

Action has been brought even more closely to structure in more recent research. The challenge has been to explain how structure changes, given that structure channels action and that arbitrary, random action deviating from structure is not a standard in organized society (or in the organizational context, for that matter). British sociologist Anthony Giddens (1984) has worked on this problem, developing a theory of structuration. According to this theory, social structure exists in the memory of organization members, for example, as the understood/adopted order of meaning and of power; this structure is invoked through communicative action and power relationships. For example, data is interpreted based on the organizational repertory of meaning via an act of communicating, which may engage power relationships. Ideas from structuration theory have influenced IS research (e.g., Orlikowski, 1992; Walsham, 2002). Structuration ideas also influenced adaptive structuration theory within group systems research (Poole et al., 1991; DeSanctis & Poole, 1994). Structuration approach has received criticism as well (Hanseth et al., 2004; Jones, 1999).

Informal and formal social structures (or just structure) are different from the physical structure of an organization (the shape and exteriors of building and external space, and the layout and purposes of internal space). But the two can be related. For example, offices designed as roofless cubicles (physical structure) can be introduced to complement a flatter social structure. Still, jumping to quick associations can be misleading: members of a Dean's office can share a bathroom with students, and yet staunchly maintain a rigid hierarchy. At the Microsoft “campus,” the company's research powerhouse, all but two offices are of the same size and layout, thus conveying a sort of egalitarian spirit. Still, this does not mean that hierarchy is wiped out as part of organizational design.

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