The Look and Feel of the Iron Cage: On the Material Design Features of Formalization

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This paper outlines a path for recovering the relevance of formalization in organization theory. I develop a new perspective by integrating streams of organization research and expanding them via insights from art, design, and technology. Specifically, I connect research on formalization, materiality, and technology to re-conceptualize formalization as an artifact. Then, drawing on art and design principles, I identify three dimensions of the "look and feel" of formalizations (shape, color, and scale) and explore how they allow us to better grasp the characteristics of different types of formalization. I illustrate this frame of analysis with the example of a formalization for knowledge sharing developed in a bureaucratic organization. I discuss how this new perspective--by highlighting key elements in the way individuals experience and relate to formalizations--sheds light on conflicting ideas on the role of formalization in organizational processes and the connections among formal organization elements in complex work settings. I conclude by outlining the implications of a renewed understanding of formalization for research on work and (new) organizational forms.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the Eighty-second Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management
EditorsSonja Taneja
Number of pages1
Place of PublicationBriarcliff Manor, NY
PublisherAcademy of Management
Publication date2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022
EventThe Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2022: Creating a Better World Together - Seattle, United States
Duration: 5 Aug 20229 Aug 2022
Conference number: 82


ConferenceThe Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2022
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address
SeriesAcademy of Management Proceedings

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