Performances of associations

wordleMy PhD thesis is entitled: Performances of associations: Sociomaterial orderings and configurations of a European eGovernment ‘community of practice’.

Here follows a short outline…

In order for any community to emerge or be cultivated, associations have to be made. Yet, forming associations is not an easy task as they are never introduced into an ‘empty world’ (Mol 2010: p.259); other linkages always already exist. Hence a community may only be configured through associations that are knit in favourable ways across a multitude of heterogeneous entities (such as people, practices, ideas, tools and technologies) and, in doing so, replace existing ones (Latour 1988). Many studies on sociomateriality argue for a co-constitutive entanglement of the entities related within such associations, but only partially consider how such entanglements occur. Grounded in Science and Technology Studies (STS), in particular Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and drawing on Karen Barad’s agential realism (2007), this study investigates how—and in which ways—entities are being associated, by looking at the ordering and configuration of a Web-based community as a performance of associations.

The research is based on a three year ethnographic study of ePractice: a large-scale, Web-based European Commission initiative that was configured as a ‘community of practice’. As such, ‘community of practice’ was not used as an analytical concept (e.g. Lave & Wenger 1991), but rather as a prescriptive term that designated a desirable objective. The methodological approach to this research follows ‘proximal thinking’ (Cooper & Law 1995), and is process-oriented and practice-based. It comprises conventional ethnographic methods such as participant observation and semi-structured interviews, which were complemented by a virtual ethnography (Hine 2003). Overall, 73 interviews were conducted, 23 events attended.

My thesis demonstrates that a sociomaterial approach offers a suitable way and rich vocabulary for researching these new, Web-based forms of organising community. The study highlights the contested nature of community and membership by conceptualising their performance as an ongoing boundary-making practice and intra-active configuration—across human and non-human actors. Communities are not just constituted by interacting members but members interacting with each other and countless other materials. Thereby the research provides evidence that communities do not connect independently existing entities but rather that whatever is being associated is co-produced simultaneously—as an ongoing sociomaterial effort of ordering and configuring the world.

I have completed the PhD in December 2013 at Lancaster University Management School in the Department of Organisation, Work and Technology. My supervisors were Theo Vurdubakis and Niall Hayes, I was examined by Simon Lilley and Lucas D. Introna.