The Consequences of Information: Institutional Implications of Technological Change
Cheltenham, Eng.: Edward Elgar, 2007.
cloth, 224 p., ISBN 978 1 84542 328 5 (hbk),ISBN 978 1 84720 500 1(pbk), also available as an e-book, $85.50; $28.00.
Edward Elgar: http://www.e-elgar.co.uk/
The consequences of Information is an elaborate account of the self-propelling growth of information and its societal implications in terms of the transformation of the organisational order of modernity and the technological changes underlying such a transformation.
Drawing on a broad range of subjects from information and organisation theory to semiotics and philosophy, Prof. Kallinikos argues that computer-mediated technologies are radically transforming our reality into digital codes that can be shaped, shuffled, re-shuffled and transferred across spatio-temporal contexts. Thus conceived, reality becomes pliable, decomposable and disposable as much as the novel social arrangements triggered by recent technological developments.
The book is structured in the following fashion: chapter one argues that the reason why the term "network" has not yet rigorously been explained in the organisational literature in general and the information systems literature in particular is because, to date, no one has endeavoured to relate its novel interaction patterns to the institutional foundations of modernity. Chapter two takes stock of this argument to outline "the computational rendition of reality", the process whereby our referential reality is transformed, at its bare minimum, into binary codes thanks to the advent of computer-mediated technologies. Prof. Kallinikos argues that functional simplification and closure, two archetypical features of modern technology, are dramatically contributing to this phenomenon thanks to the large degree of interoperability between and among variegated technological domains.
Chapter three digs deeper into this compelling insight to draw a distinction between information and knowledge, the former defined as news, the latter as elaborate and durable cognitive structures that form the basis upon which the world is comprehended. In order to be informative, information must be able to add a distinction and confer something new to what is already known. Information, in other words, may be conceived as a difference that makes a difference. Thus defined, information is bound to be disposable as its informativeness is short lived and calls for its continuous updating which, in turn, creates new "differences" in the information space which lead to a self-propelling process of information growth.
Chapter four is an "excursus on meaning, purpose and information". Far from being an instance of what has been labelled technological determinism, Prof. Kallinikos maintains that the dynamics of information growth turn upside down the role of (individual and collective) meaning because meaning is concerned with sameness rather than difference, stability rather than change. Devoid of their agency-centric connotations, the dynamics of information growth place in the background that which is usually cast in the foreground so as to account for the computational translation of reality in terms of self-reference, permutability and disposability.
Chapter five delves deeper in the social implications deriving from the digital transformation of reality. In the digital domain, information becomes a "habitat" which is entangled, at multiple levels, with other information sources in the broader information space, thus forming a background against which current economic, social and organisational developments take place. The immersion of information in the larger ecology of information sources and systems coupled with the dissolvability of tasks and processes ensuing from the digitization of reality challenge the administrative legacy of bounded and hierarchically-constituted organisations, thus originating more distributed interaction patterns that are normally associated with the network metaphor. Thus conceived, networks are disembedded interaction patterns that become re-embedded in a variety of local contexts. But even more poignantly, Prof. Kallinikos states, networks promote a new architecture of control: compared to hierarchical organisations, networks appear as disembedded and distributed patterns of interaction; contrasted to the logic of the market, networks appear as centralised arrangements where users (not buyers) pay a rent (not buy) for accessing resources or knowledge commanded by specific corporations. From this vantage point, networks are as much alternatives to organisations as they are to markets. Chapter six is an addendum on "networks and institutions" that attempts to qualify the difference between the two. In this chapter, Prof. Kallinikos argues that while institutions represent the solidification of ideas, informal behaviour patterns or practices into time-persisting social arrangements, networks are spatio-temporal instantiations of institutional arrangements reflecting the quest for cross-boundary transactions involving mostly the exchange, transfer and generation of messages and information. Thus construed, networks should not be compared to bureaucracies, which Prof. Kallinikos considers the dominant organisational form of modernity. Any such comparison entails a category mistake as it contrasts institutional forms with their instantiations in social arrangements. Far from challenging the institutional foundation of the bureaucratic order, networks are likely to modify such a foundation to a greater or lesser degree.
Chapter seven takes this train of thought one step further. It argues that the non-inclusive involvement of individuals in organisations is the distinctive characteristic of bureaucracies and modernity because it is predicated upon "modularity", that is the conception of individuals as loose aggregates of skills and predispositions which can be mobilised in a piecemeal fashion. Far from being involved qua persons, Prof. Kallinikos forcefully argues that the role, not the person, constitutes the fundamental structural and behavioural element of modern formal organising. It follows that roles, construed as standardised requirements for task performance, can be shuffled and recombined to meet fleeting contingencies. Bureaucracies, in other words, have managed to persist over time because they combine an inward trend toward internal consistency and an outward trend toward flexibility thanks to the non-inclusive involvement of their individuals. Thus conceived, selectivity, mobility and reversibility become the primary characteristics of bureaucracies while standardisation, formalisation, specialisation and centralisation are derivative features which exhibit a graded intensity. Accordingly, Prof. Kallinikos maintains that, although challenging and, to some extent, changing these derivative features, networks are still to be cast within the institutional foundation of the bureaucratic order.
Chapter eight summarises the key argument fleshed out throughout the volume along three axes: changes in work processes and structural mechanisms associated with the penetration of organisations by technological information; the reconstitution of reality as permutable information; and new modes of action and control at a distance. An appendix on some broad quantitative "Indicators and Patterns of Information Growth" at the global level brings the book to a closure.
Admittedly, in this volume Prof. Kallinikos attributes the employment contract a central significance because it coincides with the non-inclusive involvement of individuals in formal organisations. Yet its treatment is marginal in the overall economy of the book. This shortcoming notwithstanding, this book equips social scientists with a sophisticated theoretical armoury to understand the complexity of the processes of information growth and their implications in terms of the transformation of the organisational order of modernity and the technological changes underlying such a transformation. -- Federico Iannacci, BPP Business School, FedericoIannacci at bppls.com
Copyright © 2008, First Monday
Copyright © 2008, Federico Iannacci
Book review of Jannis Kallinikos' The Consequences of Information: Institutional Implications of Technological Change by Federico Iannacci.
First Monday, Volume 13 Number 5 - 5 May 2008