Exploring the role of material objects in the emergence of organization: Material mediation in organizational becoming

Rasmus Ploug Jensen

Student thesis: Master thesis


This text starts by examining both an empirical and theoretical aspect of the sensemaking approach to organization (e.g. Weick, 1979), which have received less attention than many others. The empirical element is presented in seeing how scholars applying a sensemaking perspective have historically focused on incremental emergence in established systems and paid little attention to the formation of new collectives. The theoretical element is in turn based on the idea that materiality is a downplayed aspect of organizational emergence in research on sensemaking and organizing (Whiteman & Cooper, 2011). Whereas there are substantial exceptions to both the empirical and theoretical observation, it is noted how they in concert represent a blind spot on the map of organization studies. That is, there is an absence of research on the intersection of materiality and the emergence of organizing. Thus, this study seeks to explore the contributions of materiality in the emergence of a collective structure with no history of concerted action. The empirical phenomenon is an emergency shelter for the homeless people of Copenhagen which emerged during the coldest part of a Danish winter in the beginning of 2010. Adhering to the tenets of a modest sociology (Law, 1994), the analysis is formed around the means-convergence model of collective structuring (Weick, 1979; 2001). With the influence of materiality being understood as relational materialist effects (e.g. Law, 1994; Latour, 1992; 1999), artefacts are seen as helping the actors around the shelter in moving from 1) diverse ends to common means, 2) common means to common ends, 3) common ends on to further action. In looking at the development of common means, the analysis highlights how material objects mediated processes of translation in light of the blood flow model of ordering (Latour,1999), describing how a diverse group of actors converged on sheltering the homeless. The analysis then points to how different processes of materially mediated translation provided the elements relevant for inducing behavioural commitment (Weick, 2001), thus influencing sensemaking by justification and the related emergence of common ends. In extension, the study stresses how materiality was included in processes of improvisation as bricolage (Weick, 2001) around the emergent common ends. The text concludes by pointing to how material objects in many micro processes continuously influenced contingencies in time and space (Hernes, 2008) relevant for the formation of novel collective structure. Subsequently, a discussion of the study’s implications, and new areas for research, brings the exploration to a close.

EducationsMSc in Strategy, Organization and Leadership, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2011
Number of pages93