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Algorithmic Management in a Work Context

Jarrahi, M.H. Newlands, G. Lee, M.K. Wolf, C. Kinder, E. and Sutherland, W. (forthcoming).
Journal Paper Big Data and Society


The rapid development of machine-learning algorithms, which underpin contemporary artificial intelligence systems, has created new opportunities for the automation of work processes and management functions. While algorithmic management has been observed primarily within the platform-mediated gig economy, its transformative reach and consequences are also spreading to more standard work settings. Exploring algorithmic management as a sociotechnical concept, which reflects both technological infrastructures and organizational choices, we discuss how algorithmic management may influence existing power and social structures within organizations. We identify three key issues. First, we explore how algorithmic management shapes pre-existing power dynamics between workers and managers. Second, we discuss how algorithmic management demands new roles and competencies while also fostering oppositional attitudes toward algorithms. Third, we explain how algorithmic management impacts knowledge and information exchange within an organization, unpacking the concept of opacity on both a technical and organizational level. We conclude by situating this piece in broader discussions on the future of work, accountability, and identifying future research steps.

An integrative framework of information as both objective and subjective

Jarrahi, M.H. Ma, Y. and Goray, C. (forthcoming).
Journal Paper Journal of Information Science


We present a model of information that integrates two competing perspectives of information by emulating the Chinese philosophy of yin-yang. The model embraces the two key dimensions of information that exist harmoniously: information as (1) objective and veridical representations in the world (information as object) and (2) socially constructed interpretations that are a result of contextual influences (information as subject). We argue that these two facets of information cocreate information as a unified system and complement one another through two processes, which we denote as forming and informing. While the information literature has historically treated these objective and subjective identities of information as incompatible, we argue that they are mutually relevant and that our understanding of one actually enhances our understanding of the other.

Digital Diaries as a Research Method for Capturing Practices In Situ

Jarrahi, M.H. Goray, C. Zirker, S. and Zhang, Y. (2021)
Book Chapter Research Methods for Digital Work and Organization: Investigating Distributed, Multi-Modal, and Mobile Work, edited by Katrina Prichard and Christine Hine. Oxford University Press, Oxford


Digital diaries emerge as viable methods for capturing situated practices in research participants' natural environments. In this chapter, we review what has been learned about the affordances of diary studies from various research traditions and describe our use of the digital diary method in different research contexts. We specifically explore the use of digital diaries by drawing on the application of the method in studying nomadic work practices and how it helped reveal contextual details of nomadic work. In doing so, we outline an 'interposed approach' where diary studies are preceded and succeeded by interviews with participants. Finally, we describe practical opportunities and challenges of conducting digital diaries.

Flexible Work and Personal Digital Infrastructures

Jarrahi, M.H. Newlands, G. Butler, B. Savage, S. Lutz, C. Dunn, M. and Sawyer, S. (2021).
Journal Paper Communications of the ACM


As flexible work arrangements such as remote working or digital nomadism are normalized, the structure of work, performance expectations, and employee-employer relationships fundamentally change, presenting both benefits and risks for workers. Currently, the design and management of ICT systems for work is still geared towards 'standard' organizational settings and traditional forms of work. However, Personal Digital Infrastructures (PDIs) emerge as alternative sociotechnical infrastructures that can help workers realize the opportunities of flexible work while avoiding challenges of precarious work. Building on extensive empirical work, we present PDIs as consumerized, connective, adaptive, and temporally hybrid systems which reflect and reinforce multiple dimensions of flexibility: spatial, temporal, organizational, and technological. We provide implications on how the design and management of ICT systems for work can be made more amenable to the needs of flexible workers.

Personal Knowledge Management and Enactment of Personal Knowledge Infrastructures as Shadow IT

Jarrahi, M.H. Reynolds, R. and Eshraghi, A. (2021).
Journal Paper Information and Learning Sciences


Personal knowledge management (KM) lends new emphasis to ways through which individual knowledge workers engage with knowledge in organizational contexts. This paper aims to go beyond an organizational approach to KM to examine key personal KM and knowledge building (KB) practices among adult professionals. This paper presents a summary of the findings from interviews with 58 consultants from 17 managing consulting firms. Participants were selected based on their knowledge-intensive roles and their willingness to share information about their knowledge practices. Data analysis was inductive and revealed multiple personal KM activities common among research participants, and the way these are supported by informal ties and various technologies. This work highlights ways in which “shadow information technology” undergirds personal knowledge infrastructures and supports KM and KB practices in the context of management consulting firms. The results uncover how personal knowledge infrastructures emerge from personal KM and KB practices, and the role of informal social networks as well as social media in supporting personal KM and KB.

Nomadic work and Location Independence: The Role of Space in Shaping the Work of Digital Nomads

Nash, C. Jarrahi, M.H. and Sutherland, W. (2021).
Journal Paper Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies


The enthusiasm around remote and independent working has rapidly gained momentum in the last few years. The digital nomad phenomenon has frequently been portrayed as an exemplar of this pattern and referred to by the media as a highly location-independent form of nomadic work. However, findings from this study highlight the centrality of various spaces in digital nomadic work and suggest finding and configuring these spaces allows digital nomads to accomplish productive work. Building on interviews with 23 digital nomads and analyzing pictures of workspaces from Twitter, this study examines the unique relationship among disparate workspaces, work practices, and technologies that shape nomadic work. Our findings refine the common argument that nomadic workers can work from “anywhere, anytime,” by attending to the large roles that space may play in shaping work.

Artificial Intelligence and the World of Work, a Co‐Constitutive Relationship

Østerlund, C. Jarrahi, M.H. Willis, M. Boyd, K. and Wolf, C. (2021).
Journal Paper Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology


The use of intelligent machines-digital technologies that feature data-driven forms of customization, learning, and autonomous action-is rapidly growing and will continue to impact many industries and domains. This is consequential for communities of researchers, educators, and practitioners concerned with studying, supporting, and educating information professionals. In the face of new developments in artificial intelligence (AI), the research community faces three questions: 1) How is AI becoming part of the world of work? 2) How is the world of work becoming part of AI? and 3) How can the information community help address this topic of work in the age of intelligent machines? This opinion piece considers these three questions by drawing on discussion from an engaging 2019 iConference workshop organized by the NSF supported Work in the Age of Intelligent Machines (WAIM) research coordination network (RCN).

The New Reality of Reproducibility: The Role of Data Work in Scientific Research

Feinberg, M. Sutherland, W. Nelson, S.B. Jarrahi, M.H. and Rajasekar, A.(2020).
Journal Paper Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction


Although reproducibility-the idea that a valid scientific experiment can be repeated with similar results-is integral to our understanding of good scientific practice, it has remained a difficult concept to define precisely. Across scientific disciplines, the increasing prevalence of large datasets, and the computational techniques necessary to manage and analyze those datasets, has prompted new ways of thinking about reproducibility. We present findings from a qualitative study of a NSF-funded two-week workshop developed to introduce an interdisciplinary group of domain scientists to data-management techniques for data-intensive computing, with a focus on reproducible science. Our findings suggest that the introduction of data-related activities promotes a new understanding of reproducibility as a mechanism for local knowledge transfer and collaboration, particularly as regards efficient software reuse.

Improving Patient Engagement by Fostering the Sharing of Activity Tracker Data with Providers: A Qualitative Study

Shin, G. Feng, Y. Gafinowitz, N. and Jarrahi, M.H.(2020).
Journal Paper Health Information and Libraries Journal


Activity trackers are becoming increasingly popular, but patients often hesitate to share the data from such devices with their health care providers. Researchers have shown that sharing everyday health data with physicians can foster greater patient engagement.This research is intended to investigate activity tracker users’ decisions regarding the sharing of their activity tracker data with physicians, as well as to build a stage based framework for improving patient engagement by fostering such data sharing.

Work Precarity and Gig Literacies in Online Freelancing

Sutherland, W. Jarrahi, M.H. Dunn, M. and Nelson, S.B. (2020).
Journal Paper Work, Employment and Society


Many workers have been drawn to the gig economy by the promise of flexible, autonomous work, but scholars have highlighted how independent working arrangements also come with the drawbacks of precarity. Digital platforms appear to provide an alternative to certain aspects of precarity by helping workers find work consistently and securely. However, these platforms also introduce their own demands and constraints. Drawing on 20 interviews with online freelancers, 19 interviews with corresponding clients and first-hand walkthrough of the Upwork platform, we identify critical literacies (what we call gig literacies), which are emerging around online freelancing. We find that gig workers must adapt their skills and work strategies in order to leverage platforms creatively and productively, and as a component of their 'personal holding environment.' This involves not only using the resources provided by the platform effectively, but also negotiating or working around its imposed structures and control mechanisms.

Platformic Management, Boundary Resources, and Worker Autonomy in Gig Work

Jarrahi, M.H. Sutherland, W. Nelson, S.B. and Sawyer, S. (2020).
Journal Paper Computer Supported Cooperative Work (JCSCW)


We advance the concept of platformic management, and the ways in which platforms help to structure project-based or “gig” work. We do so knowing that the popular press and a substantial number of the scholarly publications characterize the “rise of the gig economy” as advancing worker autonomy and flexibility, focusing attention to online digital labor platforms such as Uber and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Scholars have conceptualized the procedures of control exercised by these platforms as exerting “algorithmic management,” reflecting the use of extensive data collection to feed algorithms that structure work. In this paper, we broaden the attention to algorithmic management and gig-working control in two ways. First, we characterize the managerial functions of Upwork, an online platform that facilitates knowledge-intensive freelance labor - to advance discourse beyond ride-sharing and room-renting labor. Second, we advance the concept of platformic management as a means to convey a broader and sociotechnical premise of these platforms’ functions in structuring work. We draw on data collected from Upwork forum discussions, interviews with gig workers who use Upwork, and a walkthrough analysis of the Upwork platform to develop our analysis. Our findings lead us to articulate platformic management -- extending beyond algorithms -- and to present the platform as a ‘‘boundary resource” to illustrate the paradoxical affordances of Upwork and similar labor platforms. That is, these platforms (1) enable the autonomy desired by gig workers, while (2) also serving as a means of control that help maintain the viability of transactions and protect the platform from disintermediation.

Digital nomads, Coworking, and Other Expressions of Mobile Work on Twitter

Hemsley, J. Ericson, I. Jarrahi, M.H. and Karami, A. (2020).
Journal Paper First Monday


We analyze a set of Twitter hashtags to ascertain how contemporary parlance in social media can illuminate the rich cultural intersections between modern forms of work, use of technology, and physical mobility. We use network word co-occurrence analysis and topic modeling to reveal several thematic areas of discourse present in Twitter, each with its own affiliated terms and distinctive emphases. The first theme centers on worker identity and is currently dominated by the experiences of digital nomads. The second theme focuses on the practicalities of working in a physical location and is currently dominated by issues related to co-working spaces. Finally, the third theme is a loose and speculative set of ideas around the evolution of work in the future, predicting how enterprises may have to adapt to new ways of working. Our contribution is twofold. First, we contribute to scholarship on social media methods by showing how a robust analysis of Twitter data can help scholars find subthematic nuance within a complex discussion space by identifying the existence and boundaries of topical sub-themes. Second, we contribute to scholarship on the future of work by providing empirical evidence for the ways that the myriad terms related to mobility and work relate to one another and, most importantly, how these relations signal semantic centrality among those who share their thoughts on these types of work.

Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants: A Multidimensional View on Interaction with Social Technologies in Organizations

Jarrahi, M.H. and Eshraghi, A. (2020).
Journal Paper Journal of Enterprise Information Management


Research objectives: Generational membership is argued to have an impact on how social technologies are used for knowledge sharing and communication in organizational contexts. Previous research has especially underscored the difference between digital natives and digital immigrants in how they make sense of and interact with social technologies for work. This paper provides a multidimensional perspective, and explores generational differences as well as other factors deriving from both work-related and personal characteristics. Design methodology: The paper presents a summary of the findings from interviews with 58 consultants from 17 managing consulting firms. Participants were selected based on their knowledge-intensive roles and their willingness to share information about their knowledge practices. Findings: Findings highlight the significance of the organizational rank, knowledge needs, individuals' enthusiasm for technology use, and personality disposition in shaping workers' attitudes towards social technologies for knowledge practices. This work builds from a social construction of technology perspective to provide a comprehensive insight into the roles played by work and personality-related factors beyond age and generational differences in the use of social technologies in and for work. Originality: This research contributes to the discourse on generational differences and the use of social technologies. It puts this question into a broader context and highlights other factors that shape this relationship.

The Mobilities of Digital Work: The Case of Digital Nomadism

Schlagwein, D. and Jarrahi, M.H. (2019).
Conference Paper European Conference on Information Systems


This research-in-progress examines the mobilities of digital work. We study digital nomadism as an exemplary case of extremely mobile forms of digital working. The recent" mobile turn" in the social sciences provides us with theoretical grounds to understand societies that are increasing defined by dynamic, global environments (eg, freelance work, globalization and migration) and less by the conventional foundations of society (eg, lifelong employment, local economies and nation states). In this work, we are particularly interested in how and in which ways information technology (IT) makes new forms of (digital) working" mobile", unbound by conventional restrictions. To theorize the mobilities of digital work, we draw on ethnographic participant-observations and more than 100 firsthand and secondary interviews with digital nomads. The preliminary theoretical analysis reveals four interdependent mobilities of digital work: administrative mobility (working independently of organizations and businesses of others), spatial mobility (choosing where to work), temporal mobility (deciding when to work) and content mobility (freedom to determine the nature and contents of one's work). Digital nomads are the ideal-typical manifestation of the multiple mobilities of digital work.

In the Age of the Smart Artificial Intelligence: AI's Dual Capacities for Automating and Informating Work

Jarrahi, M.H. (2019).
Journal Paper Business Information Review


Recent developments in AI have generated tidal waves, which are shaking the foundation of organizations and businesses. Even though AI is considered an unprecedented disruptive force for work automation, much can be learned from current research on the computerization of work. Drawing on the seminal work of Shoshana Zuboff, this article provides a balanced perspective on the dual affordances of AI systems for automating and informating work. Whereas AI offers unique capacities for automating cognitive work that once required high-skill workers, it may be a source of unintended consequences such as cognitive complacency or deskilling workers. To overcome such effects, the informating capacities of AI systems can be invoked to augment work, generate a more comprehensive perspective on organization, and finally equip workers with new sets of intellectual skills.

Gig Platforms, Tensions, Alliances and Ecosystems: An Actor-Network Perspective

Kinder, E. Jarrahi, M.H. and Sutherland, W. (2019).
Journal Paper Proc. ACM Human-Computer. Interact. 3


The algorithm-based management exercised by digital gig platforms has created information and power asymmetries, which may undermine the stability of gig work. Although the design of these platforms may foster unbalanced relationships, in this paper, we outline how freelancers and clients on the gig platform Upwork can leverage a network of alliances with external digital platforms to repossess their displaced agency within the gig economy. Building on 39 interviews with Upwork freelancers and clients, we found a dynamic ecosystem of digital platforms that facilitate gig work through and around the Upwork platform. We use actor-network theory to: 1) delineate Upwork's strategy to establish a comprehensive and isolated platform within the gig economy, 2) track human and nonhuman alliances that run counter to Upwork's system design and control mechanisms, and 3) capture the existence of a larger ecosystem of external digital platforms that undergird online freelancing. This work explicates the tensions that Upwork users face, and also illustrates the multiplicity of actors that create alliances to work with, through, around, and against the platform's algorithmic management.

Networks of Innovation: The Sociotechnical Assemblage of Tabletop Computing

Jarrahi, M.H. and Sawyer, S. (2019).
Journal Paper Research Policy: X Volume 1, 100001


We theorize on the heterogonous network of people, visions, concepts, technological artifacts, and organizations that come together to enable product innovation. Drawing on the conceptual framing and mechanisms of actor-network theory (ANT), we focus on the relationships among human and non-human actors and their roles to enact new products. We do this to contribute both evidence and theory regarding the concept of a sociotechnical assemblage that serves as the innovation network. Advancing a sociotechnical conceptualization of innovation focuses attention on the contributions of, and linkages among, different types of actors; individuals and organizations, visions and concepts, and technological artifacts and prototypes together create a means for innovation to occur. The empirical basis for this theorizing comes from a detailed study of the community of research scientists, faculty, and graduate students; institutions such as research labs, funding sources, and product companies who were (and mostly still are) involved in tabletop computing. Analysis highlights the centrality of visions, concepts and technological artifacts in the innovation network. We also find that formal organizations play important, but often unrealized, roles in supporting innovation.

Algorithmic Management and Algorithmic Competencies: Understanding and Appropriating Algorithms in Gig Work

Jarrahi, M.H. and Sutherland, W (2019).
Conference Paper International Conference on Information (iConference 2019), Washington D.C. 31 March - 3 April


Data-driven algorithms now enable digital labor platforms to automatically manage transactions between thousands of gig workers and service recipients. Recent research on algorithmic management outlines information asymmetries, which make it difficult for gig workers to gain control over their work due a lack of understanding how algorithms on digital labor platforms make important decisions such as assigning work and evaluating workers. By building on an empirical study of Upwork users, we make it clear that users are not passive recipients of algorithmic management. We explain how workers make sense of different automated features of the Upwork platform, developing a literacy for understanding and working with algorithms. We also highlight the ways through which workers may use this knowledge of algorithms to work around or manipulate them to retain some professional autonomy while working through the platform.

Infrastructural Competence

Sawyer, S. and Erickson, E. and Jarrahi, M.H. (2019)
Book ChapterDigital STS Handbook, edited by Janet Vertesi and Steve Jackson. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ


On a typical day, a mobile knowledge worker may cross in and out of several disparate organizational contexts, confront the gatekeeping of multiple networked systems and security mechanisms, and grapple with subtler large-scale public infrastructures, such as power and transportation, in order to carry out his or her job effectively. Moreover, this worker will do this all while interacting with coworkers and clients, many of whom are also often on the move, traversing different, sometimes competing, sets of boundaries themselves. The mobile worker’s aim, as in most examples of cyberinfrastructure, is to achieve a functional seamlessness–that is, to maintain a sociotechnical exterior that suggests careful, even carefree, composition to both clients and collaborators. The achievement of these operational forms of “seamlessness,” in both material and practical terms, we call infrastructural competence. This paper develops the notion of infrastructural competence as an elemental form of modern day knowledge work.

Wearable Activity Trackers, Accuracy, Adoption, Acceptance and Health Impact: A Systematic Literature Review

Shin, G. Jarrahi, M.H. Yu, F. Karami, A. Gafinowitz, N. Byun, A. and Lu, X. (2019).
Journal Paper Journal of Biomedical Informatics, 93 (May 2019)


Wearable activity trackers (WAT) are electronic monitoring devices that enable users to track and monitor their health-related physical fitness metrics including steps taken, level of activity, walking distance, heart rate, and sleep patterns. Despite the proliferation of these devices in various contexts of use and rising research interests, there is limited understanding of the broad research landscape. The purpose of this systematic review is therefore to synthesize the existing wealth of research on WAT, and to provide a comprehensive summary based on common themes and approaches. This article includes academic work published between 2013 and 2017 in PubMed, Embase, Scopus, Web of Science, ACM Digital Library, and Google Scholar. A final list of 463 articles was analyzed for this review. Topic modeling methods were used to identify six key themes (topics) of WAT research, namely: (1) Technology Focus, (2) Patient Treatment and Medical Settings, (3) Behavior Change, (4) Acceptance and Adoption (Abandonment), (5) Self-monitoring Data Centered, and (6) Privacy. We take an interdisciplinary approach to wearable activity trackers to propose several new research questions. The most important research gap we identify is to attempt to understand the rich human-information interaction that is enabled by WAT adoption.

Personalization of Knowledge, Personal Knowledge Ecology, and Digital Nomadism

Jarrahi, M.H. Phillips, G. Sutherland, W. Sawyer, S. and Erickson I. (2019).
Journal Paper Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 70 (4)


We examine the concept of personal knowledge management using data drawn from our studies of digital nomads. We make two contributions: an empirical and conceptual development of knowledge management as it relates to independent workers and an advancement of social informatics that builds on Gibson’s ecological perspective. Digital nomads provide an empirical basis to better understand how knowledge management is shifting from organization-centric, with its concomitant emphasis on organizational information systems to worker-centric, which relies on personal knowledge ecologies. We advance this concept as a combination of personal knowledge management activities and the digital technologies that support them. Our data make clear that individuals are the locus of personal knowledge ecologies, but these ecologies are embedded in a larger community of collaborators, clients, and peers who are often extensively mediated by digital technologies. This embedding and mediation are at the core of the sociotechnical arrangements that define the personal knowledge ecologies that we document.

Beyond Novelty Effect: A Mixed-Methods Exploration into the Motivation for Long-Term Activity Tracker Use

Shin, G. Feng, Y. Jarrahi, M.H. and Gafinowitz, N.(2019).
Journal Paper JAMIA Open, 2 (1)


Activity trackers hold the promise to support people in managing their health through quantified measurements about their daily physical activities. Monitoring personal health with quantified activity tracker-generated data provides patients with an opportunity to self-manage their health. Many have been conducted within short-time frames; makes it difficult to discover the impact of the activity tracker’s novelty effect or the reasons for the device’s long-term use. This study explores the impact of novelty effect on activity tracker adoption and the motivation for sustained use beyond the novelty period.

The Sharing Economy and Digital Platforms: A Review and Research Agenda

Sutherland, W. and Jarrahi, M.H. (2018).
Journal Paper International Journal of Information Management, 43


Over the last few years the sharing economy has been changing the way that people share and conduct transactions in digital spaces. This research phenomenon has drawn scholars from a large number of disparate fields and disciplines into an emerging research area. Given the variety of perspectives represented, there is a great need to collect and connect what has been done, and to identify some common themes, which will serve as a basis for future discussions on the crucial roles played by digital platforms in the sharing economy. Drawing on a collection of 435 publications on the sharing economy and related terms, we identify some trends in the literature and underlying research interests. Specifically, we organize the literature around the concept of platform mediation, and draw a set of essential affordances of sharing economy technologies from the reviewed literature. We present the notion of platform centralization/decentralization as an effective organizing principle for the variety of perspectives on the sharing economy, and also evaluate scholars' treatment of technology itself. Finally, we identify important gaps in the existing literature on the relationship between digital platforms and sharing economy, and provide directions for future investigations.

Agency, Sociomateriality and Configuration Work

Jarrahi, M.H. and Nelson S.B. (2018).
Journal Paper The Information Society, 34 (4)


Social informatics research offers insights into the relationship between information technologies and social contexts. However, the material roles of information technologies, and their interplay with the agentic work of social actors, have not been addressed. Drawing on a field study of 37 mobile knowledge workers, we examine the dual material roles (enabling and constraining) played by information technologies in their work practices. We also investigate how these workers exert agency by fashioning multiple information technologies into a functioning digital assemblage. Although information technologies provide consequential affordances that enable mobilization of work across spaces and times, they simultaneously present design-driven, local, organizational, and temporal technological constraints that require mobile knowledge workers to engage in “configuration work” to make information technologies function effectively. Building on a sociomaterial perspective, we further discuss the interplay of information technologies and work practices enacted by mobile knowledge workers, in which both human and technological agency are materialized.

Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Work: Human-AI Symbiosis in Organizational Decision Making

Jarrahi, M.H. (2018).
Journal Paper Business Horizons, 61 (4)


Artificial intelligence (AI) has penetrated many organizational processes, resulting in a growing fear that smart machines will soon replace many humans in decision-making. To provide a more proactive and pragmatic perspective, this article highlights the complementarity of humans and AI, and examines how each can bring their own strength in organizational decision making processes typically characterized by uncertainty, complexity, and equivocality. With a greater computational information processing capacity and an analytical approach, AI can extend humans’ cognition when addressing complexity, whereas humans can still offer a more holistic, intuitive approach in dealing with uncertainty and equivocality in organizational decision-making. This premise mirrors the idea of ‘intelligence augmentation’: AI systems should be designed with the intention of augmenting, not replacing, human contributions.

Digital Nomads Beyond the Buzzword: Defining Digital Nomadic Work and Use of Digital Technologies

Nash, C. Jarrahi, M.H. Sutherland, W. and Phillips, G (2018).
Conference Paper International Conference on Information (iConference 2018), Sheffield , UK 25-29 March.


Digital nomadicity has gained popularity in recent years as a fashionable lifestyle and as a way of challenging traditional work contexts, but there has been very little incisive empirical research on the lifestyle’s characteristics, its implications for the future of work, or on the technology, which supports it. This paper describes the four key elements that constitute the work of digital nomads: (1) digital work, (2) gig work, (3) nomadic work, and (4) adventure and global travel. We present digital nomads as a community of workers situated at the confluence of these four elements and define how each of these are enabled by the use of digital technologies. This research serves as a foundation for information studies concerned with the dynamic and changing relationships between future of work, new population of workers (digital natives) and emerging digital platforms.

The Gig Economy and Information Infrastructure: The Case of the Digital Nomad Community

Sutherland, W. and Jarrahi, M.H. (2018).
Journal Paper Proc. ACM Hum.-Comput. Interact, 1 (1)


Ongoing discussions of the gig economy have focused on the critical aspect of digital mediation, and in particular the role of applications and platforms such as Uber or TaskRabbit. We extend this discussion by considering more decentralized contexts of gig economy, in which individuals do not rely on a single dominant, central intermediary, but rather exercise a higher degree of agency in arranging and aligning multiple digital platforms to support relevant work practices. We employ the concept of information infrastructure to describe the emergent configuration of heterogeneous digital platforms leveraged by digital nomads as a community of location-independent, remote workers. Using both forum analysis and in-depth interviews, we examine how the digital nomad community dynamically brings together and negotiates digital mediation in the form of an information infrastructure.

Activity Trackers, Prior Motivation, and Perceived Informational and Motivational Affordances

Jarrahi, M.H. Gafinowitz, N. and Shin, G. (2018).
Journal Paper Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 22 (2)


A large number of activity tracking devices have recently dominated the fitness world. These devices typically track different forms of activities, and are argued to encourage more active lifestyles. The devices encourage and incentivize change in behavior through mechanisms including personal goals, gratifying representations and social features. However, both current research and anecdotal evidence about the real impacts of these devices point to mixed outcomes. Many users enjoy positive experiences, while others are reported to have abandoned these devices without generating lasting value for themselves. Through a qualitative study of 29 users of Fitbit activity tracking devices, we explore how different types of pre-existing motivation shaped people's perception and adoption of the device. Building from the affordance perspective, our findings suggest that users’ pre-existing motivations, derived from unique life priorities, personal situations and personalities, may interact with different aspects of the tool, and result in disparate outcomes. Two primary conclusions of this research are: 1) The motivational features of activity tracking devices may only complement already existing motivations of the users, but do not create incentive for more physical activities on their own. 2) The value of informational affordances of activity trackers diminishes over time for most users (except the Quantified Selfers), and without motivational affordances, informational affordances do not sustain longterm use of the device.

A Pragmatic Approach to Managing Enterprise IT Infrastructures in the Era of Consumerization and Individualization of IT

Jarrahi, M.H. Crowston, K. Bondar, K. and Katzy, B. (2017).
Journal Paper International Journal of Information Management, 37 (6)


Historically, organizations owned and controlled the information technologies (IT) their employees used: telephone, inter-office memos, mainframes and timesharing systems. Today, employees often want to use their own IT: not only personal smart phones and tablets, but also Twitter and Google Docs. This new trend can diversify and extend enterprise IT infrastructure, but leaves organizations struggling with technology uses that they cannot control. With the emergence of new technological paradigms in consumer markets and organizations, the management of IT infrastructure requires a more pragmatic and holistic approach that goes beyond simple technological considerations. In this paper, we present a three-part framework—technology, people and practice—that helps managers understand and mitigate these tensions. Drawing on two empirical studies of European executives and consultants form multiple management consulting firms, the paper further outlines changes taking place along the three aspects of the framework. It concludes by discussing three distinct approaches to the management of organizational IT infrastructure (passive, reactive, and pragmatic), and by offering greater insight regarding a pragmatic approach.

Personal Artifact Ecologies in the Context of Mobile Knowledge Workers

Jarrahi, M.H. Nelson, S.B. and Thomson, L. (2017).
Journal Paper Computers in Human Behavior, 75 (October)


Recent work suggests that technological devices and their use cannot be understood in isolation, and must be viewed as part of an artifact ecology. With the proliferation of information and communication technologies (ICTs), studying artifact ecologies is essential in order to design new technologies with effective affordances. This paper extends the discourse on artifact ecologies by examining how such ecologies are constructed in the context of mobile knowledge work, as sociotechnical arrangements that consist of technological, contextual, and interpretive layers. Findings highlight the diversity of ICTs that are adopted to support mobile work practices, and effects of individual preferences and contextual factors (norms of collaboration, spatial mobility, and organizational constraints).

Social Media, Social Capital, and Knowledge Sharing in an Enterprise

Jarrahi, M.H. (2017).
Journal Paper IT Professional, 20 (4)


This article provides insight into the transformative role social media may play in informal knowledge sharing in an enterprise by adopting a social capital perspective. This work explores the ways in which the use of social media results in digital transformation of informal ties that provide the social capital needed for knowledge sharing within and across organizations. The effects of social media on social ties are captured by drawing upon a field study of social media adoption by consultants.

The Interplay Between Information Practices and Information Context: The Case of Mobile Knowledge Workers

Jarrahi, M.H. and Thomson, L. (2017).
Journal Paper Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 68 (5)


The knowledge workforce is changing: global economic factors, increasing professional specialization, and rapid technological advancements mean that more individuals than ever can be found working in independent, modular, and mobile arrangements. Little is known about professional information practices or actions outside of traditional, centralized offices; however, the dynamic, unconventional, and less stable mobile work context diverges substantially from this model, and presents significant challenges and opportunities for the accomplishing of work tasks. This article identifies five main information practices geared toward mobilizing work, based on in-depth interviews with 31 mobile knowledge workers (MKWs). It then uses these five practices as starting points for beginning to delineate the context of mobile knowledge work. We find that the information practices and information contexts of MKWs are mutually constitutive: challenges and opportunities of their work arrangements are what enable the development of practices that continually (re)construct productive spatial, temporal, social, and material contexts for work. This article contributes to an empirical understanding of the information practices of an increasingly visible yet understudied population, and to a theoretical understanding of the contemporary mobile knowledge work information context.

Mobility of Knowledge Work and Affordances of Digital Technologies

Nelson, S.B. Jarrahi, M.H. and Thomson, L. (2017).
Journal Paper International Journal of Information Management, 37 (2)


The focus of this work arises from two needs within information science literature: 1) to understand more, from an empirically driven perspective, about the increasingly visible yet understudied mobile work population, and 2) to address more clearly, from a theoretical standpoint, the ways in which information and communication technologies (ICTs) mediate the work practices of these mobile workers. Drawing on the affordance perspective, this research goes beyond simplistic conceptualizations of technological effects to explore the roles of multiple ICTs in enabling mobile knowledge work. In this paper, the use of ICTs in mobilizing information practices and the ways in which ICTs generate affordances along different mobility dimensions (spatial, temporal, contextual, and social) are examined. The empirical base of this research is a field of study of 33 mobile knowledge workers (MKWs); broadly, it focuses on the ways they employ ICTs to accomplish work in dynamic and unpredictable work conditions.

“Technology isn’t always the best”: The Intersection of Health Tracking Technologies and Information Practices of Digital Natives

Cheon, E. Jarrahi, M.H. and Su, N.M (2016).
Conference Paper The IEEE International Conference on Healthcare Informatics 2016 (ICHI 2016), Chicago, IL 4-7 October.


Some believe that today’s young and tech-savvy generation will eagerly adopt the latest health tracking technologies. However, we know little about the tracking practices of young adults, and in particular how they use technologies to journal their daily fitness activities and diet. Drawing from practice theory, this study uses Savolainen’s concept of information practice to examine the life contexts of users (e.g., personal goals and habits) that influence the use of health tracking technologies. Through interviews with thirteen college students, we identify the information practices that young adults perform to track their health and diet, outlining how different information practices exhibit different levels of reliance on technology. Life contexts may help explain why our young adults preferred “traditional” technologies like paper for some information practices. Further we suggest that the design of future health-tracking technologies need to holistically consider the interwoven nature of information practices, life contexts, and tracking technologies.

Infrastructuring and the Challenge of Dynamic Seams in Mobile Knowledge Work

Erickson, E. and Jarrahi, M.H. (2016).
Conference Paper 2016 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), San Fransisco, CA, February 27–March 2    


Highly mobile knowledge workers spend a large portion of their time traversing within and among different infrastructural configurations as they move through space. These dynamic configurations are experienced as either technological or contextual constraints, which range from forms of technological exclusion and infrastructural disconnection to divides caused by both spatial and organizational boundaries. The workaday nature of these constrained environments force mobile workers to engage in a type of articulation work that involves the construction of bridging, assembling, or circumventing solutions to repeatedly negotiate these impediments. Engaging in these ‘infrastructuring’ practices requires that workers develop ‘infrastructural competence’—knowledge of the generative possibilities of infrastructural seams. In effect, this renders mobile workers as infrastructural bricoleurs. We discuss the implications of this required competence and speculate regarding its origin, maintenance, and differentiation among professions.

Information Practices in the Broader ‘Deportment’ of Mobile Knowledge Work

Thomson, L. and Jarrahi, M.H. (2015).
Conference Paper The American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIST) 2015 Annual Meeting, St. Louis, MI, 6 -10 November    


This paper presents preliminary findings from an in-depth, exploratory study aimed at gathering an understanding of mobile knowledge workers’ information practices, which are presumed distinct from those of non-mobile, stationary, centrally located workers. Its focus arises from a need to understand more, from an empirical standpoint, about the information practices of this increasingly visible yet understudied population. Semi-structured interviews with sixteen mobile knowledge workers suggest that this demographic hones distinct but intertwined practices around dealing with information. Five of these are discussed here; together, they compose a broader mobile knowledge work ‘deportment’ of sorts. Mobile knowledge workers also appear to use bottom-up technological infrastructures to mediate their information practices, ones that are enacted independently of any organization for which they may work. This is discussed as a ripe area for further research. This paper’s findings are relevant for advancing research around mobile knowledge work and information practices generally, and for organizations seeking to better support the work of their own mobile employees specifically.

Digital and Physical Materiality of Information Technologies: The Case of Fitbit Activity Tracking Devices

Jarrahi, M.H. (2015).
Conference Paper The 48th Annual Hawaii International Conference on Systems Sciences (HICSS). Kauai, HI, 5–8 January


This paper explores the role of digital and physical materiality in relation to the use of Fitbit activity tracking devices. Materiality concerns properties of a technology that transcend space, time, and particularities of the contexts. Our objective, in particular, is to examine how digital and physical properties may play a role in shaping user’s perception and actions around the use of Fitbit devices. The primary findings are (1) both digital and physical material properties of the device together provide a material framework, which constrains and enables users’ activities, and (2) both forms of materiality are contingent upon the design/form of the device. As a result the materiality of digital information cannot be studied without examining its entwining with the information technology that records, processes, shares, and represents it.

Examining Practice, Structural, and Interpretive Dimensions of Technology Assemblages: The Case of Social Technology Use by Knowledge Workers

Jarrahi, M.H. (2014).
Conference Paper The American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIST) 2014 Annual Meeting, Seattle, WA, 31 October – 4 November


This paper theorizes on the sociotechnical dynamics and underlying dimensions of technology assemblages that emerge from the use of social technologies in organizations. This theorization reflects more precisely the information ecology around knowledge workers, which is more technologically diversified than suggested by prior studies. To that end, this work differs from the few studies of social technologies and many studies of ICT in organizations by focusing on more than one technology and by considering social technologies as an assemblage. In order to advance current theorizing about technology assemblages, this works draws on data from a study of knowledge workers’ use of social technologies for knowledge sharing and presents three complementary analytic lenses: Practice, Structural, and Interpretive. Integrating the three lenses, allows us to holistically capture the disparate dimensions of social technology assemblages enacted by knowledge workers.

Contextualising information practices and personal information management in mobile work

Thomson, L, and Jarrahi, M.H. (2014).
Conference Paper The Information Behaviour Conference, 2014, Leeds, United Kingdom, 2-5 September


This short paper has identified three potential crossroads between information practices scholarship and the context of mobile work, which are currently being investigated, altered, and refined in an exploratory pilot project that involves approximately 35-50 mobile workers in the United States. As mobile work itself and mobile work research are relatively new phenomena, this pilot study is gathering data from individuals across both diverse professions (consultancy, design, and academia, for example) and locations.

Social informatics and social media: Theoretical reflections

Hara, N. Fichman, P. Jarrahi, M.H. Rosenbaum, H. Fleischmann and K. Butler, B. (2014).
Panel The American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIST) 2009 Annual Meeting, Seattle, WA, 31 October – 4 November


Early social informatics research focused primarily on ethnographic and site-specific observations or was based on limited discourse analysis involving smaller case studies. However, in the last decade, the rise of social media has provided access to large-scale data and made the observation of interaction between people and technologies easier. This trend has informed social informatics perspectives for examining the roles and impacts of social media in our work and social lives. For a number of years now, researchers in social informatics have been concerned about expanding the theoretical depth and richness of the discipline (Sanfilippo and Fichman, 2014; Sawyer and Tyworth, 2006). As studies of social media continue to gain in popularity and move from descriptive to more analytical approaches, researchers are likely to begin to critically reflect on what they are doing and finding and to therefore provide insights into theoretical aspects of social informatics research. Therefore, the panel will explore the following question: • In what ways does this type of research make theoretical contributions to social informatics and move the theory

More than nomads: Mobility, knowledge work and infrastructure

Erickson, E. Jarrahi, M.H. Thompson, L. and Sawyer, S. (2014).
Conference Paper EGOS Colloquium, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 3-5 July.


In this paper, we promote a nascent definition of mobile knowledge work in line with this ‘bit’ characterization. As such we understand mobile knowledge workers as primarily engaged in work for which they have singular expertise. It is this expertise that drives demand for the participation of specific individuals, which typically requires greater than episodic travel. Most importantly, is the insight that the specialist, mobile activities of these workers require the regularly navigation of a set of boundaries—temporal, spatial, organizational, infrastructural, social, and cultural—in order to accomplish work successfully. These three facets of work—its bit-related, knowledge composition; its requisite mobility; and its infrastructural engagement—begin to draw out a conceptual area—a triad, of sorts—that we can use to interrogate the empirical realities of mobile knowledge workers in the future. To begin laying this groundwork, we first look to the literatures on knowledge work, mobility, and infrastructure studies individually. We follow this with a discussion of emergent themes that starts to showcase generative relations between and among the three dimensions. Finally, we conclude with a set of research questions that we hope will provoke additional research in this area, including our future study of mobile knowledge work practices in the U.S. states of New York and North Carolina.

Theorizing on the Take-up of Social Technologies, Organizational Policies and Norms, and Consultants' Knowledge-sharing Practices

Jarrahi, M.H and Sawyer, S.
Journal Paper Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 66 (1)


We identify the effects of specific organizational norms, arrangements and policies regarding uses of social technologies for informal knowledge sharing by consultants. For this study, the term, "social technologies" refers to the fast-evolving suite of tools such as traditional applications like email, phone and instant messenger; emerging social networking platforms (often known as social media) such as blogs, wikis; public social networking sites (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn), and enterprise social networking technologies that are specifically hosted within one organization’s computing environment (i.e., Socialtext). Building from structuration theory, the analysis presented here focuses on the knowledge practices of consultants related to their uses of social technologies and the ways in which organizational norms and policies influence these practices. A primary contribution of this research is a detailed contextualization of social technology uses by knowledge workers. As many organizations are allowing social media-enabled knowledge sharing to develop organically, most corporate policy towards these platforms remains defensive, not strategic, limiting opportunities. Implications on uses and expectations of social technologies arising from this research will help organizations craft relevant policies and rules to best support technology-enabled informal knowledge practices.

"The Sociotechnical Perspective.” In Information Systems and Information Technology

Sawyer,S. and Jarrahi, M.H. (2014).
Book Chapter Volume 2 (Computing Handbook Set, Third Edition,) edited by Heikki Topi and Allen Tucker. Chapman and Hall/CRC.| April 1, 2014 | ISBN-10: 1439898448


Through this chapter we provide an overview of the sociotechnical premise: the mutual constitution of people and technologies. The sociotechnical premise and its various approaches, including the seminal work of the Tavistock scholars, the Nordic and Scandic approaches, and their evolution, are developed as the historical basis of this work. In the chapter we also cover the role of sociological thinking, the contributions of science and technology studies and social construction/social shaping of technology, actor network theories, and contemporary approaches. The chapter concludes with a cursory review of current debates around economic sociology, multidimensional networks and advancing our current conceptualization of the digital artifact.

Assemblage of Social Technologies and Informal Knowledge Sharing

Jarrahi, M.H. (2013).
Workshop Paper Workshop on Social Computing for Workforce 2.0, ICWSM-13, Boston, MA, July 2013.


This study focuses on the ways in which social technologies as a whole facilitate informal knowledge sharing in the workplace. Social technologies include both common technologies such as email, phone and instant messenger and emerging social networking technologies, often known as social media or Web 2.0, such as blogs, wikis, public social networking sites (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn), enterprise social networking technologies, etc. To understand the role of social technologies in informal knowledge practices, we pursue a field study of knowledge workers in consulting firms to investigate the role of social technologies in their informal knowledge sharing practices. Findings highlight five knowledge practices motivated by different knowledge problems and supported by the use of multiple social technologies.

Social Technologies, Informal Knowledge Practices, and the Enterprise

Jarrahi, M.H and Sawyer, S. (2013).
Journal Paper Journal of Organizational Computing and Electronic Commerce, 23 (1).


This paper focuses on the ways in which social technologies facilitate informal knowledge sharing in the workplace. Social technologies include both common technologies such as email, phone and instant messenger and emerging social networking technologies, often known as social media or Web 2.0, such as blogs, wikis, public social networking sites (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn), enterprise social networking technologies, etc. We know social technologies support informal interactions over digital systems and influence informal social connections among people within and across organizational boundaries. To understand the role of social technologies in informal knowledge practices, we pursue a field study of knowledge workers in consulting firms to investigate the role of social technologies in their informal knowledge sharing practices. Our theorizing from the data is guided by the conceptual premises of sociomateriality to better understand the ways social technologies are integrated with common knowledge practices. Findings highlight five knowledge practices supported by the use of social technologies. Building from these findings we offer conceptual insights regarding the material performance of different social technologies as an assemblage.

Social Technologies and Knowledge Sharing within and across Organizations

Jarrahi, M.H. (2012).
Conference Poster ACM GROUP 2012, Sanibel Island, FL, 27-31 October


SThis doctoral research empirically investigates the role of various social technologies in informal knowledge sharing practices within and across organizations. Social technologies include both (a) traditional social technologies (e.g., email, phone and instant messengers) and (b) emerging social networking technologies commonly known as social media such as blogs, wikis, major public social networking sites (i.e., Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn), and enterprise social networking technologies employed behind a firewall. Building from sociomateriality research, I study how these social technologies, as a suite of tools, are used in combination. The primary outcome of this research is a more complete conceptualization of the role and value of various social technologies for knowledge sharing in organizational contexts, which still remains understudied within the CSCW arena.

Social Networking Technologies and Organizational Knowledge Sharing as a Sociotechnical Ecology

Jarrahi, M.H. and Steve Sawyer (2012).
Conference Poster 2012 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), Seattle, WA, 11-15 February


We focus on how the uses of social networking technologies (SNT) are bound up in knowledge sharing practices. For us SNT include weblogs, wikis, corporate social networking platforms, and social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Our focus is to the uses of SNT relative to people’s informal networks within and across organizations. We conceive these as multidimensional networks, treating technology and humans symmetrically and as members of the same sociotechnical ecology. To date, evidence indicates that SNTs have multiple roles regarding knowledge sharing in organizational contexts, and it appears that uses of SNT advance collaborative practices in ways not fully congruent with contemporary organizational practices.

Forming and Norming: Social Media Adoption in The Corporate Sector

Mergel, I, Mugar, G, and Jarrahi, M.H. (2012).
Conference Paper 2012 I-Conference, Toronto, Canada, 7-10 February.


Social media increasingly pervade the business context. Despite the widespread fascination with the transformative capabilities of these tools, and an increased observability of online social media practices in the corporate sector, the adoption process at the organizational level as well as its consequences on policies and strategies are currently less understood. To ameliorate this gap, this study sets out to examine adoption patterns and their resulting organizational policies and strategies that influence or are influenced by specific adoption behaviors. In doing so, this study builds on findings of an interpretive case analysis, that integrates insights from various social media strategists, purposively selected from multiple industries. Guided by several technology adoption frameworks – primarily Orlikowski’s structurational analysis - three distinct pathways of social media adoption emerged from the data: (1) early adopters, (2) internal mavericks and (3) bandwagon jumpers. Each pathway is driven by either internal or external social behaviors, and leads to distinct organizational social media practices. Our data shows that existing organizational polices and norms mediate social media adoption practices while in turn, innovative adoption practices transform and influence the emergence of policies and norms in the form of a reflexive feedback mechanism.

On-line Course Registration Systems Usability: A Case Study of the e-Lion Course Registration System at The Pennsylvania State University

Ngamassi, L.M, Hills, Jarrahi, M.H, and Du, H. (2012).
Journal Paper International Journal of Information Systems and Social Change (IJISC), 3(4).


Electronic course registration systems allow students to select courses and giving student to access course offerings through these on-line systems as well as the ability to complete various administrative functions allows for better management of curriculum decisions in the context of academic objectives. The objective of these systems is to make this process more convenient and easier to achieve which has been met with varying levels of success. This study looks closely at one particular system, the e-Lion system at the Pennsylvania State University. Data was collected using semi-structured interviews and an online survey. The findings are discussed through the lens of the Delone and McLeane (D&M) information systems success model and are of interest to business practitioners fielding on-line systems in the areas of e-commerce and e-learning as well as many others, providing considerable insight into the importance of system usability.

Social Networking Technologies and Informal Knowledge Sharing in Organizations

Jarrahi, M.H and Steve Sawyer (2010).
Workshop Paper Organizations and Society in Information Systems (OASIS) Workshop, Saint Louis, MO, 12 December 2010.


This presentation investigates the role of corporate social networking technologies in knowledge sharing. Through this research we will investigate the take-up and uses of social network technologies (SNTs) by knowledge workers in formal social organizations. Our premise is that the uses of SNTs, and the personal networks of informal ties that this use both enables and encourages, are mutually constitutive. We focus on the mutual constitution of social networks and SNTs because organizations are increasingly finding information sharing initiatives imperative to their knowledge management activities, and social networking is the most well understood means to do this. In doing this research we pursue three contributions: (1) Conceptual insight and empirical support for the material nature and value of digitally-enabled social connections. (2) Advance current conceptual understanding of SNT’s organizational value. And, in doing this we build from and synthesize current and relevant research from several intellectual communities such as social computing, information systems, social network analysis, and organizational studies. (3) Articulate organizationally-relevant design and governance principles regarding SNT uses.

A Structurational Analysis of How Course Management Systems Are Used in Practice

Jarrahi, M.H. (2010).
Journal Paper Journal of Behavior and Information Technology, 29(3).


An understanding of the role of e-learning needs to be accompanied by a realisation of the variety of social dimensions in the innovation process. As most studies in this domain are typically context-independent, this research, building on structuration theory, seeks to investigate different interpretations and uses of course management systems (CMSs) in an academic context. For the purpose of this research, a case study has been conducted on the introduction of a CMS in a higher education institution. Findings from this empirical study have been drawn on to illuminate how this system is employed in disparate manners by different groups of academics and what are the reasons behind this discrepancy. The study also demonstrates that the practice lens (Orlikowski, W.J., 2000. Using technology and constituting structures: a practice lens for studying technology in organizations. Organization Science, 11 (4), 404–428), viewing the use of technology as a process of enactment, presents a useful insight for explanation and synthesis of the variations in usage patterns.

Informal Networks of Innovation

Jarrahi, M.H and Steve Sawyer. (2010).
Conference Paper Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, Montréal, Canada, 6-10 August, 2010


Innovation continues to draw scholarly attention across a range of disciplines and intellectual communities. Scholars from multiple disciplines offer up a diverse range of theories regarding technological innovation. Through this theoretical essay we review these conceptualizations of innovation practices and posit that (1) innovation processes are likely to take place through network-like arrangements and (2) these networks are often informal and long-standing. We argue that innovation is done through networks because these can best facilitate the exchange of innovative ideas and competencies. We also argue that innovation network structures are often based on extending and formalizing informal relationships among individual actors. Relative to our second point, we further note that there is little research which investigates the nature and influence of these informal interactions and their network structures. In an effort to address this gap, we build on our review of relevant existing literature to develop theoretical constructs which illuminate the constitution and the salience of informal networks of innovations. These theoretical constructs draw from the literatures of social network theory, communities of practice, invisible colleges, and actor network theory. Based on this review, a model of informal interaction is constructed which is constituted of human actors and social institutions, specific technological artifacts, innovative concepts and the time dimension. We conclude by elaborating on the interactions of these network components.

Informal Networks of Innovation: Stability in ‘Smallish’ Worlds, the Presence of Actants, and Institutions in the Background

Steve Sawyer and Jarrahi, M.H. (2009).
Workshop Paper Workshop on Information in Networks, Stern School of Business, New York University, New York, 25-26 September, 2009.


We report here on a detailed 'micro study' of informal networks of innovation. The goal of this study is greater empirical and conceptual understanding of the social structures that underlie technological innovation. For the empirical basis of this study, we focus attention to the small community of scholars, research labs, product companies, funding sources, and graduate students who are involved in table-top computing (with Microsoft's 'surface computing' product the most well known). Through a combination of interviews, bibliometric analysis and other secondary sources, we developed a detailed network depiction of the informal connections among key scholars, institutions (that provide resources), core technologies, and specific organizing concepts that draw these together. Our data illuminate the relative stability of informal social connections over time, the secondary importance of institutions, and the centrality of particular technologies/artifacts and concepts (in the Latourian sense of being actants). To explain this empirical insight we draw on and synthesize from work from the literatures of invisible colleges, communities of practice, social network theory, innovation and science and technology studies.

Review of Social Software in Libraries: Building Collaboration, Communication and Community Online, Meredith G. Farkas. Information Today, Inc., Medford New Jersey

Jarrahi, M.H. (2009)
Book Review Information Processing and Management, 45(3).


The book, “Social Software in Libraries”, introduces various applications of social software in contemporary libraries. It explores the growing phenomenon of social software and how these technologies can be applied in libraries. Farkas, as a distance learning Liberian, tries to present relevant constructs as simple as possible, so that a typical librarian could understand some of the cutting-edge technologies. She draws on the concepts of generation X throughout her book, illuminating the particularities of this generation. This sounds crucial since librarians are increasingly facing a generation that views the Internet as an inseparable and critical element of their lives.

The Contextuality Problem in Information Systems Research

Jarrahi, M.H and Steve Sawyer. (2009).
Conference Paper 2009 I-Conference, Chapel Hill, NC, 9-12 February, 2009.


Some forty years ago Simon (1969) used the metaphor of an ant crossing a beach to illustrate rudimentary principles of context-dependent behavior. The ant travels across the beach following what seems to be a wobbly line. The ant’s trajectory is complicated as the beach is strewn with pebbles, rocks, and other obstacles. The apparent complexity of the ant’s behavior as it moves seems largely a reflection of the complexity of the environment (the beach) in which it is embedded. This metaphor emphasizes the constraining and enabling roles that “context” can play in shaping behavior. This is echoed by system theory which asserts that any phenomenon has an "environment" with which it is inextricably intertwined (Porra 2001). More pointedly, Simon’s metaphor helps make clear that scholars of information systems, like most social scientists, build from an often implicit dynamic between micro-activity (the ant’s movements) and macro-structure (the obstacle-strewn beach). Acknowledging the complexity of any social reality leads us to examine the ongoing interactions between the micro and macro perspectives. To better understand these micro / macro interactions, a useful theoretical conceptualization needs to address the context within which the practices unfold. In doing so, the researcher must go through a process of contextualization. Contextualization is the “linking of observations to a set of relevant facts, events or point of view that make possible research and theory that form part of a larger whole.” (Rousseau et al. 2001) This contextualization process allows researchers to build situational and temporal conditions directly into their theories, and relate these to conceptualizations of embedded phenomena of interest. However, the contextualization process is framed by trade-offs. Contextualizing leads researchers to explore deeply the environment of study and to integrate the meanings and interpretations into their theoretical model. Paradoxically, and due to the idiosyncratic nature of each context, the results of this process will likely be considerably skewed towards the particularities of the context of study. As such, models engendered by context-rich studies are more difficult to abstract from and, hence, to generalize. We call this trade-off between rich contextual insight and cross-context generalization the contextuality problem. Several attempts within information system scholarship have been made to redress the problem (i.e. Webb and Mallon (2007) proposal for bridging the gap between generalizability and particularity in IS narrative research). However, this general vs. particular and breadth vs. depth tension continue to linger (Pentland 1999).