Kallinikos et al. 2012

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Kallinikos, Jannis, et al. Materiality and Organizing : Social Interaction in a Technological World. OUP Oxford, 2012.

Debate between techno determinism and social constructivism — material turn in some ways was designed to solve this

“Although a return to the material sounds like a viable strategy for incorporating the role of materiality into constructivist understandings of the social world, there is, at present, at least one problem with this strategy. The problem is that the term ‘materiality,’ and other related terms that scholars have begun to use … are neither well defined nor consistently used[.] Moreover, their relationship to concepts in regular use in the social sciences such as technology, form, function, artifact, and socio-technical system is not yet clear.” (5)

“it is difficult to build meaningful theoretical research programs without concepts that are internally consistent and clearly defi ned in relation to other existing concepts. The goal of this book is not to reach clear defi nitions about the concept of materiality. Instead, we assembled the chapters included herein so that in conversation with each other, the chapters might begin to surface similarities and differences in the way leading international scholars from thefi elds of Anthropology, Communication Studies, Economics, Informatics, Information Systems, Philosophy, Science & Technology Studies, and Sociology are thinking about the role of materiality in the organizing process” (5)

Overview of concept of materiality (6ff)

“Most of the material things and objects that sustain social life are cultural objects that have been invented and produced by humans to assist with their daily endeavors. Production resonates well with materiality but invention less so. To invent amounts, after all, to imagining a function or use that does not exist yet. Imagination transcends the given or immediate, and in doing so, it construes reality as different from what it currently is.” (7)

Same problems with concept of technology

“One of the primary associations which tools, technical systems, and artifacts invoke is their solidity, a persisting objectless granted to them by their material or corporeal status. wYet again, upon closer scrutiny, technological objects are not distinguished on the basis of their sheer materiality but rather thanks to the functions they summon or embody, for example, a knife is used to cut, a vessel to contain, a camera to take photographs. Of course, functions are human fabrications grafted upon whatever matter fits or is able to support them, straightforwardly or through elaboration.” (8)

“These observations indicate that straightforward and conspicuous as materiality may originally seem, it turns out to be a rather evasive and difficult to pin down concept. Similar to the horizon, an understanding of materiality seems to recede as we approach it.” (9-10)

“These observations suggest that the mutual interpenetration of the social and the technical — the entanglement of humans with artifacts — can be approached by different routes that put the emphasis either on the interpretive nature of human agency or, alternatively, on those facts that render that agency possible in the first place. In the former case, human agency tends to remain the original explanatory medium for the constitution of social reality, the primary force, as it were, through which material conditions are appropriated to shape the social world. In the latter case, materiality, technology, and agency are not any longer exogenous to one another. Rather, they mingle in an indissoluble bundle of iterative or recursive relations that removes human agency from the center stage, making it just one more force among the dance of forces that express and govern social life.” (11)

Importance of history, tracking different constellations of relations between materiality, technology, and social sphere over time (11)

Jannis Kallinikos, “Form, Function, and Matter: Crossing the Border of Materiality”

Interested in disentangling function, form and matter as defining attributes of technology

Function and matter are “closely related to one another, and matter has traditionally been used, elaborated, and formed to serve particular functions” (68)

“I take the concept of materiality to literally signify the material or physical constitution of technological objects (or lack of it) and the implications (social and technical) such a constitution has for the design, making, and use of such objects.” (68)

“A corollary of this is that technologies and technological objects are understood to grow at the confluence of form, function, and matter and thus entail much more than their material constitution. By the same token, technologies and technological objects are distinguished from standardized social behavior crystallized in routines, programs, and standard operating procedures.” (69) — and “These defining attributes set technology apart from routines, programs, and standard operating procedures.” (69)

argument is predicated “on a reading of cultural and technological evolution that accords modern technology and technological design (function and form), a growing emancipation from the materials with which they are entangled.” (69)

Function: “the purpose or purposes an object, or a set of objects, fulfills” (70)

“the identification and discovery of matter qualities brought about by advances in science and technology affords penetrating the interior of matter, decomposing its compact nature, and promoting selective use and (re)combination of matter qualities along a broad spectrum of matter.” (70)

“A case could therefore be made for the fact that, while important, the material substratum of technological objects does not suffice to define their instrumental identity.” — Valery argument that we only find what matters in matter (hardness, e.g.) and use that to produce function (71)

Form: “provides the mold to which matter enters and is, as we know since Aristotle, the cause formulas (the receptacle, design, edits) of a particular object or artifact, distinguished and to some degree juxtaposed to the cause materials (matter, hyle).” (71)

“Technological artifacts combine then form/design and matter in different proportions or patterns.” (71)

“While form may serve aesthetic sensibilities, within the overall performativity context technology establishes, it is closely tied to and, to some degree, derives from function, an idea that has succinctly been captures by the modernist motto of architecture form followed function.” (71)

Form as “phenotypic” in simple artifacts, “betraying the function that it serves” (71)

Objects can have multiple functions

“Once conceived, functions are mapped to physical components and brought to bear upon one another via the links or interfaces that connect functions and their physical components. That mapping entails a considerable degree of freedom with respect to the choice of matter and form of the physical components and, crucially, the way they should be connected to one another.” (72) — Ulrich calls this “product architecture”

“Rather than simply providing the overall purpose an object serves (Aristotle’s causa finalis), functions in principle cascade throughout the entire spectrum of elements and physical components that make up an object and provide the framework within which matter is made to matter. Any talk of material agency … has therefore to contemplate this intricate network of functional relationships which technological objects embody.”

Combining matter and their different qualities to create new technological objects or processes (72)

“From this standpoint, technology emerges as a combinatorial methodology for molding (decomposing and recomposing) matter and reality” (72)

“Technological evolution has consequently transformed the game of technology from a system of fixed processes and ends to a generative matrix out of which new functions and forms are constantly produced. Placed in such a context, matter, as an important resource of technological ingenuity, becomes a space of possibilities, supporting a variety of human purposes as these are manifested in the functions and forms which mater combinatoria is able to sustain.” (73)

“The technological domestication of matter” (73-4)

“As technological sophistication grows, dependence on matter becomes increasingly contingent on particular matter qualities that are possible to extract, exchange, and combine across a wider spectrum of matter.” (74)

Software as a “technology without matter, a conceptual scheme or frame in which a number of cognitive relations and procedures are laid out and ordered in ways that make possible their machine execution” (77)

Technology “instrumented as set of logical relations” has long “evolutionary trajectory” — traced back to systems of writing (77-8)

Babbage’s machine — didn’t produce material outputs but pure abstraction — separation / dissociation of information processing from communication “and the construction of software systems able to operate independently from the semantics and pragmatics of communication” (78)

“The higher level technological operations the software embodies, including their regular update and development, can be pursued relatively independently from the prevailing hardware constraints. This is key to understanding how the paradigm of computation epitomizes a new relationship between function, form, and matter.” (79)

Digital content as a layer on top of software and hardware

Hardware virtualization and cloud computing

“The bonds tying the invention and making of technological objects and patterns to matter have increasingly become loosened over the course of technological evolution.” (82) — “the gradual and progressive dissociation of function from matter and, of lately, form” (82)

Youngjin Yoo, “Digital Materiality and the Emergence of an Evolutionary Science of the Artificial”

Digital artifacts are “unbounded and generative”; they “rarely remain in their original form. They cannot be contained within an innovator’s control: instead, they spill into more contested domains beyond their own boundaries” (135)

“I argue that we are at the cusp of a new type of artificial world that is inundated with digital artifacts that are continuously evolving and changing. The emergence of a new artificial world demands new approaches to digital artifacts and its materiality, with a focus on their evolution.” (135)

Artifacts are “both material and immaterial objects that are man-made for subsequent use to accomplish certain goals by performing certain functions” (136)

Form and function (136)

“What I am focusing on in this chapter is how the digitalization of these artifacts affords new forms of materiality to them, ultimately making them more generative than their analog counterparts.” (137)

“Digitalization has brought a fundamental shift in the power balance between material and immaterial. As I will argue below, pervasive digitalization is decisively loosening the powerful grip of physical materiality on immaterial ideas. This shift sets up a condition for the highly generative and dynamic evolutionary patterns of digital artifacts.” (137)

Characteristics of digital technology:

  • “Idea that all information can be structured as a series of binary digits of either 0 or 1, or simply ‘bits’” (138) — “homogenization of data” (138)
  • Digitalization embeds microprocessors and software into the non-digital tools (138) — reprogrammability
  • Immaterial (139)
  • Self-referential nature

Digital artifacts have a “layered modular architecture” (140) — with “procrastinated binding” (142)

Using system biology to understand evolution of digital artifacts — “By decomposing an artifact into the basic elements in a similar way that genetics does, and by looking at the system as whole built by combining such elements, we are able to better understand the evolution and changes of those artifacts.” (143)

Defining characteristics of a web API, encoding them according to a schema, presenting a mashup of different APIs as a sequence or DNA of mashup — use sequence analysis tool from genetics to analyze them (147)

Phylogenetic tree of 100 most popular APIs since 2008

“So, what does this mean for research on materiality? While the currently dominant approach to materiality highlights the unique and situated nature of the sociomaterial ensemble (Orlikowski and Scott, 2008), the approach that I outlined here emphasizes the universal common structures that give birth to those varieties that we observe. In the words of Lévi-Strauss, a genetics approach demands a shift from conscious material phenomena to unconscious infrastructure. Or, in the words of Kallinikos, it is a transition from object- mediated discourse with context-embedded knowledge to the standardized world of constitutive rules with decontextualized representation. In order to truly appreciate the material richness of the arti fi cial world with all its expressed varieties, we need to step back and peel off the super fi cial surface of phenomena and look for the genetic instructions that produce varieties.” (151)