(C20)
Software & organisation
Location Bowland Hall Main Room
Date and Start Time 26 Jul, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 3

Convenors

  • Lisa Conrad (Leuphana University Lüneburg) email
  • Paula Bialski (Leuphana University Lüneburg) email
  • Armin Beverungen (University of Siegen) email

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Short abstract

This panel explores the intricate relationship between software and organisation. Making use of the different meanings of the term "organization" (formal, emergent, social) it invites research on a variety of phenomena joined by a focus on the entanglements of software and organization.

Long abstract

This panel explores the intricate relationship between software and organization. The term "organization" can take on a multitude of meanings - ranging from formal to informal to emergent to social organization. This panel thus brings together research on a range of phenomena, nonetheless joined by their focus on the entanglements between software and organization in its varied forms. Starting with formal organisation, we aim at interrogating the way enterprise software (i.e. database management systems, ERP systems, intranets) have become embedded in established corporations and bureaucracies over the past 50 years. Here, we are also interested in the way enterprise software relates to existing, paper-based practices of coordination and administration (backward compatibility) and how it has changed them according to the demands of software. Secondly, most software is itself a product of formal organisation. A lot of attention has been paid to emerging practices of work, often labelled as 'agile' or 'scrum'. Instead of just celebrating their innovativeness, we ask how these practices are related to, and constituted by, the material properties of software. Thirdly, there are new organisational formations emerging from software by allowing collaboration over larger distances or by collecting and aggregating data in novel ways. A very visible manifestation of this logic of "organized networks" (Rossiter) are platforms. Amazon, Google, Uber or AirBnB are prominent examples. How do such platforms change social organization with their software becoming increasingly integrated into everyday life?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Coding for the common good - writing software in organizations with care

Authors: Tobias Boczanski (Goethe University Frankfurt) email
Laura Kocksch (Ruhr-University Bochum) email
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Short abstract

In agile teams developers continuously have to coordinate fixing and planning activities, e.g., assign responsibility for flawed code or collaborate to trace back dependencies. In focusing on code practices, we describe how the organization translates into common visions of good software.

Long abstract

In our two-month ethnographic study we investigated how software developers in a firm coordinate their work practices through code. When bugs were reported, developers engaged in practices of remembering previous actions and scheduling next steps accordingly. They had to go back to the past when the original code was written (2 years to 2 months ago) and simultaneously sustain the shared vision of the future software. In order to combine both, past and future, developers adopted the code and dedicated care for it. Code care included situated practices of documentation (with future developments in mind), contributing to the enterprise Wiki system, and taking pride in the code as an expert software developer and making it look "nicer" - more efficient, shorter, elegant, and more aesthetic. They did not do this for functional reasons but to enact their shared vision of a good software product. Taking care of one's code served as a translation of organizational needs into valued developer's practices. The code tied the firm's plans to situated actions of developers.

We are interested in the way invisible work practices like code care relate organizational work to visions of a "good" software product. This paper discusses how functional software requirements and social accountability, responsibility and norms are co-configured through code care activities. How does a shared vision of good software emerge, and how does it connect the firm with developer practices through caring activities? This lense on code care allows us to situate the organization in development practice.

Error-driven development? On confluences between agile development methods, the character of software and errors as actors

Author: Roman Tischberger (Augsburg University) email
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Short abstract

The contribution focuses on the question how practices of social organisation with Scrum, an 'agile' software development method, emerge from basic principles of software. Both, software and Scrum, try to set structures in order to avoid errors, which can be seen as actors, disrupting communication.

Long abstract

Methods of agile software development, here in the example of Scrum, are widely established to organise social processes in everyday software labour. Software and methods of agile development are, at a first glance, two diverse things. While software can be understood as a complex technological text to enable different ways of controlling computers, Scrum identifies itself more as a mindset in project management, supported by different rules and roles.

However, both share an important commonality by offering explicit structures to regulate each their theoretical openness and try to tame contingency. In that point of view, developing software comes in iterative cycles of thinking, coding and testing - always following principles of logic and thereby the absence of errors. Scrum offers a toolset, putting communication and organisational workflows into ritualised meetings, and assigns specific duties to involved persons.

The character of software and the organisation of its development are furthermore highly entangled: in avoiding errors. Both phenomenons try to establish a working, error-free communication, in human-computer as well as in human-human interactions. Therefore, errors can be seen as non-human actors, which force human actors to re-do and improve their actions. Finally, errors are supposed to be hedged by structuring social organisation of developing, so software and its modes of development follow strategies of avoiding communicational conflicts.

The paper bases on a six-month fieldwork in a software company in Germany. One research focus lay on the social construction of software, organised by agile methods like Scrum, from the perspective of cultural anthropology.

The dependence of agile software project organization on agile software development tools

Authors: Matthias Bottel (Technical University of Berlin) email
Ingo Schulz-Schaeffer (Technical University of Berlin) email
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Short abstract

There is a correspondence between the agile approach of organising and managing projects of software development and the agile methods and tools of structuring and supporting the production of software. We argue that this correspondence is rooted in characteristics of software as a product.

Long abstract

The agile framework (e.g. Scrum) proposes a new way of organizing and managing projects. In the field of software development, a whole range of specialized tools for agile development enables this new organizational approach. For example, the continuous integration server is a software tool that serves the purpose of integrating new software parts into the already programmed ones. It does so continuously and during the ongoing work of developing the software. This is crucial for developing with the Scrum method as this organization framework specifies that software has to be developed in iterations lasting only a few weeks, and that each iteration has to end with a piece of runnable software. Continuous integration draws on a particular characteristic of software: Software can be compiled into runnable products earlier or later in its development with less or more functionality. And if one wants to, further components can be added later. The same would be much more difficult with most hardware products.

In our presentation, we will show that there is a correspondence between the agile approach of organising and managing projects of software development and the agile methods and tools of structuring and supporting the production of software. We argue that this correspondence is rooted in the just mentioned characteristic of software as a product. Our findings are based on empirical research on projects of distributed software development from our research project "Collaborative Technologies and Practices in Transnational Projects of Software-Development" funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

Softare and organizing: the case of a telemedicine toolkit to manage emergencies in nursing homes

Author: Gérald Gaglio (University of Nice Sophia Antipolis ) email
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Short abstract

This communication will explore the emergent side of organizations that we call « organizing » and how this emergent side collides with the formal side of organization. To understand this encounter, we will scrutinize the experimental deployment of a telemedecine software between ten nursing homes and an emergency medical dispatch center in France.

Long abstract

This communication will explore the emergent side of organizations that we call « organizing » after several scholars and how this emergent side collides with the formal side of organization. To understand this encounter, we will scrutinize the experimental deployment of a telemedecine software between ten nursing homes and an emergency medical dispatch center near Troyes (France).

The thesis defended here is that « organizing » (or articulation work) is needed to make telemedicine work. Nevertheless, actors can not forget the formal side of organizations (process, accountability, etc.). In other words, emergent and formal side of organizations are antagonistic in the first instance but have to become complementary : the story of the telemedecine softare studied could help to demonstrate this argument.

In order to do so, we have conducted a multi-sited ethnography (24 interviews, in situ observations, documents analysis) during six months (january/july 2014). The telemedicine toolkit concerned was a suitcase that includes devices with which the nursing home staff can perform an electrocardiograph, measure blood pressure and determine how much oxygen people have in their blood; it uses a Tablet PC to transmit the data gathered using these instruments to the emergency medical dispatch center so that the nursing home staff can discuss the situation with the regulating doctors. All the system was based on a software developed by a start-up. The purpose of the experiment was to avoid sending costly vehicles and having elderly people unnecessarily discharged at the hospital.

Bringing data home: Agile transformations through the lens of a public IT project

Author: Bastian Jørgensen (IT University of Copenhagen) email
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Short abstract

This presentation explores the development of a data sharing platform in the Danish Tax and Customs Administration. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, it will discuss how development efforts create new ideas about possible organizational formations of public sector institutions.

Long abstract

In the Danish Tax and Customs Administration, "bringing data home" has become an increasingly prominent idea. Conducting ethnographic fieldwork in the tax administration, I have encountered this strategic wish repeatedly while following the development of an IT project. The project aims to develop a new digital platform through which the tax administration can share data with other public institutions. "Bringing data home" is in many ways an illustrational phrase because it can serve to foreground a series of changes that the project seeks to overcome and bring about in the administration. These changes are related to 1) investments in IT employees and new IT departments, 2) the development of a new database infrastructure, 3) the development of a data sharing platform, from which tax related data can be accessed, and 4) increased use of internal IT resources and agile development methods. Using the phrase "bringing data home," I explore some of these ideas and discuss the organisational changes currently taking place in a Danish public sector institution. All of this help to bring out the on-going work involved in making new IT projects work, showcasing how the formation of strategic ideas and frames serve to underpin and drive organizational changes. This gives significant new clues as to the ways in which so-called "agile" transformations take place in the context of public sector institutions.

How the 'material agency' of computer programs manifests itself in project meetings

Author: Ole Pütz (Bielefeld University) email
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Short abstract

This paper asks how the "material agency" (Pickering) of computer programs manifests itself in the discussions of developers. It argues that developers explore the technological possibilities and limitations of computer programs in their work and that these evolve over the course of a project.

Long abstract

This paper considers the collaborative work of software developers from an ethnographic perspective. It asks how the "material agency" (Andrew Pickering) of computer programs manifests itself in the discussions of developers. Modern digital computers provide possibilities, things that would not be possible without them, but also limitations, what is possible needs to be done in a certain way: e.g., digital computers require digitized inputs, and computer programs require unambiguous and explicit instructions formulated with the restricted vocabulary of a programming language. Software developers attend to these possibilities and limitations in their work. But whether a program does "what it is supposed to do" cannot be settled by the computer itself. This needs to be discovered over time by developers both by writing and testing the program and discussing what it does and does not do right (yet) in interaction with other developers and stakeholders. These discussions of developers in meetings are the focus of the paper. Empirically, the paper considers projects of computer scientists who specialize in semantic computing. While based on what is technologically possible, the work of development is far from being technologically determined, it is a practice where the interests of stakeholders and the conventions of computer science matter, with the computer program itself serving as a powerful mediator. This mediator evolves over the course of a project, in a way where its inherent limitations/possibilities evolve as well.

The “invisible work” of data management systems in Big Science: following the development of the European Spallation Source

Author: Katherine Harrison (Lund University) email
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Short abstract

How is data management organised at a Big Science facility and what difference does this make to the knowledge produced there? This paper explores data management at the European Spallation Source as an entanglement of people, organisation and technologies.

Long abstract

Susan Leigh Star made a powerful argument for paying close attention to infrastructure in “The Ethnography of Infrastructure,” when she compared the wires and settings of an information system to the sewers of a city; these often-overlooked aspects of a city are nevertheless vital for a well-functioning infrastructure. This is certainly true when studying so-called Big Science facilities, where, both historically and today, the “invisible work” of data management systems and personnel are essential to the production of cutting-edge scientific knowledge.

In this paper I present material from an ongoing study into the development of data management processes at the currently-under-construction European Spallation Source (ESS). The ESS represents a rare opportunity to observe the design and development of a Big Science facility, including the organisational infrastructure and technical support related to data management.

I suggest two ways to approach looking at data management in terms of organisational infrastructure at the ESS. The first concerns the demands that a big data system makes on organisational infrastructure. Capture, processing, storage and movement of large and complex data sets has practical implications in terms of hardware, software, staff, and premises.

The second concerns what can be learnt about an organisation by looking at its information infrastructure. Studying the decision-making process around data management provides clues as to how power dynamics and knowledge production are organised at “ground level”, how the organisation of office space, the development of standardisation or categorisation protocols, or access to technical support reflect and shape inter-organisational power dynamics.

Organising control: a study of the collaborative production of free software

Author: Reinhard Anton Handler (Karlstad University) email
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Short abstract

This paper discusses the importance of control in free software. Its main argument is that while software rests on a computational logic the impact on organisations is ambiguous. Computational control allows surveillance but embedded in free software it forms the basis for free collaboration.

Long abstract

This paper explores the forms of control involved in the production of free software. Free software is often praised as the vanguard for decentralised forms of production. Much of the enthusiasm draws from the perceived lack of hierarchies and control in the organisation of free software. Existing research has highlighted governance, hierarchies and power laws in commons-based peer production. This paper adds an additional perspective by discussing flexible forms of control in the collaborative production of free software. It focuses on the specific characteristics concerning the ethic of collaboration and coordination of production in The Document Foundation, the home of the free office suite LibreOffice, which defines itself as an independent self-organising meritocratic free software organisation. The major contribution of this paper is to describe how the organisation The Document Foundation and the production of LibreOffice rests on a software logic that allows tracking and close control of a collaborative production process. It shows that a 'softwarization of culture' (Berry, 2015) has specific features and repercussions but the organisations that emerge can operate differently depending on the social and cultural contexts. Tracking, embedded in the ethic of free software, offers close control of a collaborative process allows while it also offers exit points of this organisational control when it is embedded in the fundamental freedoms of free software.

References

Berry, D. M. (2015). Critical theory and the digital. New York: Bloomsbury.

"Don't let them feed you with organic sorts": demystifying 'organic' ordering on social media with rhythmedia

Author: Elinor Carmi (Royal Holloway, University of London.) email
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Short abstract

This paper proposes a new theoretical approach to examine the way media companies (re)order people, objects and their relation in specific temporalities for economic purposes, called rhythmedia. Focusing on Facebook, I show how it enacts an artificial boundary between organic and paid ordering.

Long abstract

This paper proposes a new theoretical approach to examine the way media companies (re)produce different temporalities and spatialities, in a practice I call - Rhythmedia. Rather than starting at the point of seeing or (in)visibility to examine ways of knowing in software mediated spaces, this paper argues that using rhythm is more productive when conducting research on datafied spaces. Influenced by Raymond Williams' (1974) planned flow concept and Henry Lefebvre's (2004) work on rhythm, 'rhythmedia' is the way media companies (re)order people, object and their relations in particular temporalities and spatialities for economic purposes. This is enacted on bodies that are trained by repetitions and spatial software organisation in order to produce particular subjects.

As a case study the paper focuses on Facebook's EdgeRank algorithm which orders different objects, people and their relations on a software mediated space the company calls 'newsfeed'. The research undertook several qualitative methods from November 2013 until November 2014, including autoethnography on Facebook newsfeed, archiving different 'terms of use' sections every two weeks, analysing Facebook's Newsroom 'news' section announcements, and conducting a method I developed and call 'platform reverse engineering'.

In particular, I show how Facebook (re)produces particular temporalities (such as speed and frequencies of actions) to draw an artificial line between 'organic' and 'paid' ordering of its newsfeed to make a profit from the service it offers for free to 'normal' users.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.