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Abstract

We begin with a retrospective reflection on the first author’s research career, which in large part is devoted to research about the implications of information technology (IT) for organizational change. Although IT has long been associated with organizational change, our historical review of the treatment of technology in organization theory demonstrates how easily the material aspects of organizations can disappear into the backwaters of theory development. This is an unfortunate result since the material characteristics of IT initiatives distinguish them from other organizational change initiatives. Our aim is to restore materiality to studies of IT impact by tracing the reasons for its disappearance and by offering options in which IT’s materiality plays a more central theoretical role. We adopt a socio-technical perspective that differs from a strict sociomaterial perspective insofar as we wish to preserve the ontological distinction between material artifacts and their social context of use. Our analysis proceeds using the concept of “affordance” as a relational concept consistent with the socio-technical perspective. We then propose extensions of organizational routines theory that incorporate material artifacts in the generative system known as routines. These contributions exemplify two of the many challenges inherent in adopting materiality as a new research focus in the study of IT’s organizational impacts.

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