“Technology as an occasion for structuring: Evidence from observation of CT scanners and the social order of radiology department`” by Stephen R. Barley
The authors had an interest to find out how technology might occasion organizational structures. The authors reviewed the theories of materialist, organizational theorist, negotiated –order theory, and structuration theory and chose the structuration theory as a basis of this research. Structuration theory views that structuring is driven by actors` interpretation of events and technology are occasions that trigger social dynamics which maintain or modify organizational contours. Authors thought that identical technology is quite likely to occasion process that lead to different scripts and to different organizational structures in different settings. To prove this, authors chose the case of introduction of identical CT scanners to the two community hospitals named Urban and Suburban.
Authors scrutinized interaction that took place between radiologist and technologist to isolate scripts characteristic of each area`s interaction order in 1982. In order to measure decentralization, authors coded who to make a decision regarding the 91 scans related matters and treatment. The results show that identical technologies can occasion similar dynamics and yet lead to different structural outcomes. Suburban hired inexperienced radiologists and experienced technologists while Urban staffed experienced radiologists and novice technologists at the beginning stage of introduction of CT scanner. These differences influenced the relative distribution of expertise that constrained the structuring process and caused different outcomes. This constraint is partially explained by the decentralization of the two organizations. The introduction of the scanners not only occasioned a more decentralized structure at Suburban but that suburban`s interaction order departed more significantly from tradition than did Urban`s independent verification.
As Urban stated with experienced radiologists, radiologist kept their dominant position over technologists who were less experienced on the CT scanners than radiologist until novice radiologist replaced the experienced on at the fourth stage. But if Suburban had started differently, the structure change would have been different. The influences of expertise distribution are suggested in the paper with the implication that structural consequences of decision making on expertise distribution are likely unanticipated.
< Contribution and critiques>
This paper suggests that identical technology is very likely to bring different consequence, as technology introduction and ensued process of change from it is contextual dynamics. It conceptualized that technologists are social objects capable of triggering dynamics whose unintended and unanticipated consequences may follow contextual logic.
However, a couple of questions arise after reading the paper.
Authors mention that structuring theory holds that technical uncertainty and complexity are social constructions that vary from setting to setting even when identical technologies are deployed. What meaning and usefulness we are able to find as theoretical and managerial implication, if we can’t find cause and effect, predict, or generalize what change expertise distribution (staffing decision) bring on organizations structure?
The paper shows the two cases of the two community hospital which introduced the identical technology with staffing decision on radiologists vs. technologists. Authors observed and recorded behavior and conversation of radiologists and technologists, but did not analyze why the structural outcomes came out differently from the two hospitals by comparing specifically the two cases. It shows one common thing of the two cases: the introduction of the CT scanner brought decentralization of the organization of the two hospitals. But there is no explicit comparison or analysis why the two organizations experienced different structural change from the introduction of the same technology.