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Mobility of Knowledge Work and Affordances of Digital Technologies

Sarah Beth Nelson, Jarrahi, M.H. and Thomson, L. (2017).
Journal Paper International Journal of Information Management, 37 (2)


The focus of this work arises from two needs within information science literature: 1) to understand more, from an empirically driven perspective, about the increasingly visible yet understudied mobile work population, and 2) to address more clearly, from a theoretical standpoint, the ways in which information and communication technologies (ICTs) mediate the work practices of these mobile workers. Drawing on the affordance perspective, this research goes beyond simplistic conceptualizations of technological effects to explore the roles of multiple ICTs in enabling mobile knowledge work. In this paper, the use of ICTs in mobilizing information practices and the ways in which ICTs generate affordances along different mobility dimensions (spatial, temporal, contextual, and social) are examined. The empirical base of this research is a field of study of 33 mobile knowledge workers (MKWs); broadly, it focuses on the ways they employ ICTs to accomplish work in dynamic and unpredictable work conditions.

“Technology isn’t always the best”: The Intersection of Health Tracking Technologies and Information Practices of Digital Natives

Cheon, E. Jarrahi, M.H. and Su, N.M (2016).
Conference Paper The IEEE International Conference on Healthcare Informatics 2016 (ICHI 2016), Chicago, IL 4-7 October.


Some believe that today’s young and tech-savvy generation will eagerly adopt the latest health tracking technologies. However, we know little about the tracking practices of young adults, and in particular how they use technologies to journal their daily fitness activities and diet. Drawing from practice theory, this study uses Savolainen’s concept of information practice to examine the life contexts of users (e.g., personal goals and habits) that influence the use of health tracking technologies. Through interviews with thirteen college students, we identify the information practices that young adults perform to track their health and diet, outlining how different information practices exhibit different levels of reliance on technology. Life contexts may help explain why our young adults preferred “traditional” technologies like paper for some information practices. Further we suggest that the design of future health-tracking technologies need to holistically consider the interwoven nature of information practices, life contexts, and tracking technologies.

The interplay between information practices and information context: The case of mobile knowledge workers

Jarrahi, M.H. and Thomson, L. (forthcoming).
Journal Paper Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology


The knowledge workforce is changing: global economic factors, increasing professional specialization, and rapid technological advancements mean that more individuals than ever can be found working in independent, modular, and mobile arrangements. Little is known about professional information practices or actions outside of traditional, centralized offices; however, the dynamic, unconventional, and less stable mobile work context diverges substantially from this model, and presents significant challenges and opportunities for the accomplishing of work tasks. This article identifies five main information practices geared toward mobilizing work, based on in-depth interviews with 31 mobile knowledge workers (MKWs). It then uses these five practices as starting points for beginning to delineate the context of mobile knowledge work. We find that the information practices and information contexts of MKWs are mutually constitutive: challenges and opportunities of their work arrangements are what enable the development of practices that continually (re)construct productive spatial, temporal, social, and material contexts for work. This article contributes to an empirical understanding of the information practices of an increasingly visible yet understudied population, and to a theoretical understanding of the contemporary mobile knowledge work information context.

Infrastructuring and the Challenge of Dynamic Seams in Mobile Knowledge Work

Erickson, E. and Jarrahi, M.H. (2016).
Conference Paper 2016 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), San Fransisco, CA, February 27–March 2    


Highly mobile knowledge workers spend a large portion of their time traversing within and among different infrastructural configurations as they move through space. These dynamic configurations are experienced as either technological or contextual constraints, which range from forms of technological exclusion and infrastructural disconnection to divides caused by both spatial and organizational boundaries. The workaday nature of these constrained environments force mobile workers to engage in a type of articulation work that involves the construction of bridging, assembling, or circumventing solutions to repeatedly negotiate these impediments. Engaging in these ‘infrastructuring’ practices requires that workers develop ‘infrastructural competence’—knowledge of the generative possibilities of infrastructural seams. In effect, this renders mobile workers as infrastructural bricoleurs. We discuss the implications of this required competence and speculate regarding its origin, maintenance, and differentiation among professions.

Information Practices in the Broader ‘Deportment’ of Mobile Knowledge Work

Thomson, L. and Jarrahi, M.H. (2015).
Conference Paper The American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIST) 2015 Annual Meeting, St. Louis, MI, 6 -10 November    


This paper presents preliminary findings from an in-depth, exploratory study aimed at gathering an understanding of mobile knowledge workers’ information practices, which are presumed distinct from those of non-mobile, stationary, centrally located workers. Its focus arises from a need to understand more, from an empirical standpoint, about the information practices of this increasingly visible yet understudied population. Semi-structured interviews with sixteen mobile knowledge workers suggest that this demographic hones distinct but intertwined practices around dealing with information. Five of these are discussed here; together, they compose a broader mobile knowledge work ‘deportment’ of sorts. Mobile knowledge workers also appear to use bottom-up technological infrastructures to mediate their information practices, ones that are enacted independently of any organization for which they may work. This is discussed as a ripe area for further research. This paper’s findings are relevant for advancing research around mobile knowledge work and information practices generally, and for organizations seeking to better support the work of their own mobile employees specifically.

Digital and Physical Materiality of Information Technologies: The Case of Fitbit Activity Tracking Devices

Jarrahi, M.H. (2015).
Conference Paper The 48th Annual Hawaii International Conference on Systems Sciences (HICSS). Kauai, HI, 5–8 January


This paper explores the role of digital and physical materiality in relation to the use of Fitbit activity tracking devices. Materiality concerns properties of a technology that transcend space, time, and particularities of the contexts. Our objective, in particular, is to examine how digital and physical properties may play a role in shaping user’s perception and actions around the use of Fitbit devices. The primary findings are (1) both digital and physical material properties of the device together provide a material framework, which constrains and enables users’ activities, and (2) both forms of materiality are contingent upon the design/form of the device. As a result the materiality of digital information cannot be studied without examining its entwining with the information technology that records, processes, shares, and represents it.

Examining Practice, Structural, and Interpretive Dimensions of Technology Assemblages: The Case of Social Technology Use by Knowledge Workers

Jarrahi, M.H. (2014).
Conference Paper The American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIST) 2014 Annual Meeting, Seattle, WA, 31 October – 4 November


This paper theorizes on the sociotechnical dynamics and underlying dimensions of technology assemblages that emerge from the use of social technologies in organizations. This theorization reflects more precisely the information ecology around knowledge workers, which is more technologically diversified than suggested by prior studies. To that end, this work differs from the few studies of social technologies and many studies of ICT in organizations by focusing on more than one technology and by considering social technologies as an assemblage. In order to advance current theorizing about technology assemblages, this works draws on data from a study of knowledge workers’ use of social technologies for knowledge sharing and presents three complementary analytic lenses: Practice, Structural, and Interpretive. Integrating the three lenses, allows us to holistically capture the disparate dimensions of social technology assemblages enacted by knowledge workers.

Contextualising information practices and personal information management in mobile work

Thomson, L, and Jarrahi, M.H. (2014).
Conference Paper The Information Behaviour Conference, 2014, Leeds, United Kingdom, 2-5 September


This short paper has identified three potential crossroads between information practices scholarship and the context of mobile work, which are currently being investigated, altered, and refined in an exploratory pilot project that involves approximately 35-50 mobile workers in the United States. As mobile work itself and mobile work research are relatively new phenomena, this pilot study is gathering data from individuals across both diverse professions (consultancy, design, and academia, for example) and locations.

Social informatics and social media: Theoretical reflections

Hara, N. Fichman, P. Jarrahi, M.H. Rosenbaum, H. Fleischmann and K. Butler, B. (2014).
Panel The American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIST) 2009 Annual Meeting, Seattle, WA, 31 October – 4 November


Early social informatics research focused primarily on ethnographic and site-specific observations or was based on limited discourse analysis involving smaller case studies. However, in the last decade, the rise of social media has provided access to large-scale data and made the observation of interaction between people and technologies easier. This trend has informed social informatics perspectives for examining the roles and impacts of social media in our work and social lives. For a number of years now, researchers in social informatics have been concerned about expanding the theoretical depth and richness of the discipline (Sanfilippo and Fichman, 2014; Sawyer and Tyworth, 2006). As studies of social media continue to gain in popularity and move from descriptive to more analytical approaches, researchers are likely to begin to critically reflect on what they are doing and finding and to therefore provide insights into theoretical aspects of social informatics research. Therefore, the panel will explore the following question: • In what ways does this type of research make theoretical contributions to social informatics and move the theory

More than nomads: Mobility, knowledge work and infrastructure

Erickson, E. Jarrahi, M.H. Thompson, L. and Sawyer, S. (2014).
Conference Paper EGOS Colloquium, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 3-5 July.


In this paepr, we promote a nascent definition of mobile knowledge work in line with this ‘bit’ characterization. As such we understand mobile knowledge workers as primarily engaged in work for which they have singular expertise. It is this expertise that drives demand for the participation of specific individuals, which typically requires greater than episodic travel. Most importantly, is the insight that the specialist, mobile activities of these workers require the regularly navigation of a set of boundaries—temporal, spatial, organizational, infrastructural, social, and cultural—in order to accomplish work successfully. These three facets of work—its bit-related, knowledge composition; its requisite mobility; and its infrastructural engagement—begin to draw out a conceptual area—a triad, of sorts—that we can use to interrogate the empirical realities of mobile knowledge workers in the future. To begin laying this groundwork, we first look to the literatures on knowledge work, mobility, and infrastructure studies individually. We follow this with a discussion of emergent themes that starts to showcase generative relations between and among the three dimensions. Finally, we conclude with a set of research questions that we hope will provoke additional research in this area, including our future study of mobile knowledge work practices in the U.S. states of New York and North Carolina.

Theorizing on the Take-up of Social Technologies, Organizational Policies and Norms, and Consultants' Knowledge-sharing Practices

Jarrahi, M.H and Sawyer, S.
Journal Paper Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 66 (1)


We identify the effects of specific organizational norms, arrangements and policies regarding uses of social technologies for informal knowledge sharing by consultants. For this study, the term, "social technologies" refers to the fast-evolving suite of tools such as traditional applications like email, phone and instant messenger; emerging social networking platforms (often known as social media) such as blogs, wikis; public social networking sites (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn), and enterprise social networking technologies that are specifically hosted within one organization’s computing environment (i.e., Socialtext). Building from structuration theory, the analysis presented here focuses on the knowledge practices of consultants related to their uses of social technologies and the ways in which organizational norms and policies influence these practices. A primary contribution of this research is a detailed contextualization of social technology uses by knowledge workers. As many organizations are allowing social media-enabled knowledge sharing to develop organically, most corporate policy towards these platforms remains defensive, not strategic, limiting opportunities. Implications on uses and expectations of social technologies arising from this research will help organizations craft relevant policies and rules to best support technology-enabled informal knowledge practices.

"The Sociotechnical Perspective.” In Information Systems and Information Technology

Sawyer,S. and Jarrahi, M.H. (2014).
Book Chapter Volume 2 (Computing Handbook Set, Third Edition,) edited by Heikki Topi and Allen Tucker. Chapman and Hall/CRC.| April 1, 2014 | ISBN-10: 1439898448


Through this chapter we provide an overview of the sociotechnical premise: the mutual constitution of people and technologies. The sociotechnical premise and its various approaches, including the seminal work of the Tavistock scholars, the Nordic and Scandic approaches, and their evolution, are developed as the historical basis of this work. In the chapter we also cover the role of sociological thinking, the contributions of science and technology studies and social construction/social shaping of technology, actor network theories, and contemporary approaches. The chapter concludes with a cursory review of current debates around economic sociology, multidimensional networks and advancing our current conceptualization of the digital artifact.

Assemblage of Social Technologies and Informal Knowledge Sharing

Jarrahi, M.H. (2013).
Workshop Paper Workshop on Social Computing for Workforce 2.0, ICWSM-13, Boston, MA, July 2013.


This study focuses on the ways in which social technologies as a whole facilitate informal knowledge sharing in the workplace. Social technologies include both common technologies such as email, phone and instant messenger and emerging social networking technologies, often known as social media or Web 2.0, such as blogs, wikis, public social networking sites (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn), enterprise social networking technologies, etc. To understand the role of social technologies in informal knowledge practices, we pursue a field study of knowledge workers in consulting firms to investigate the role of social technologies in their informal knowledge sharing practices. Findings highlight five knowledge practices motivated by different knowledge problems and supported by the use of multiple social technologies.

Social Technologies, Informal Knowledge Practices, and the Enterprise

Jarrahi, M.H and Sawyer, S. (2013).
Journal Paper Journal of Organizational Computing and Electronic Commerce, 23 (1).


This paper focuses on the ways in which social technologies facilitate informal knowledge sharing in the workplace. Social technologies include both common technologies such as email, phone and instant messenger and emerging social networking technologies, often known as social media or Web 2.0, such as blogs, wikis, public social networking sites (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn), enterprise social networking technologies, etc. We know social technologies support informal interactions over digital systems and influence informal social connections among people within and across organizational boundaries. To understand the role of social technologies in informal knowledge practices, we pursue a field study of knowledge workers in consulting firms to investigate the role of social technologies in their informal knowledge sharing practices. Our theorizing from the data is guided by the conceptual premises of sociomateriality to better understand the ways social technologies are integrated with common knowledge practices. Findings highlight five knowledge practices supported by the use of social technologies. Building from these findings we offer conceptual insights regarding the material performance of different social technologies as an assemblage.

Social Technologies and Knowledge Sharing within and across Organizations

Jarrahi, M.H. (2012).
Conference Poster ACM GROUP 2012, Sanibel Island, FL, 27-31 October


SThis doctoral research empirically investigates the role of various social technologies in informal knowledge sharing practices within and across organizations. Social technologies include both (a) traditional social technologies (e.g., email, phone and instant messengers) and (b) emerging social networking technologies commonly known as social media such as blogs, wikis, major public social networking sites (i.e., Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn), and enterprise social networking technologies employed behind a firewall. Building from sociomateriality research, I study how these social technologies, as a suite of tools, are used in combination. The primary outcome of this research is a more complete conceptualization of the role and value of various social technologies for knowledge sharing in organizational contexts, which still remains understudied within the CSCW arena.

Social Networking Technologies and Organizational Knowledge Sharing as a Sociotechnical Ecology

Jarrahi, M.H. and Steve Sawyer (2012).
Conference Poster 2012 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), Seattle, WA, 11-15 February


We focus on how the uses of social networking technologies (SNT) are bound up in knowledge sharing practices. For us SNT include weblogs, wikis, corporate social networking platforms, and social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Our focus is to the uses of SNT relative to people’s informal networks within and across organizations. We conceive these as multidimensional networks, treating technology and humans symmetrically and as members of the same sociotechnical ecology. To date, evidence indicates that SNTs have multiple roles regarding knowledge sharing in organizational contexts, and it appears that uses of SNT advance collaborative practices in ways not fully congruent with contemporary organizational practices.

Forming and Norming: Social Media Adoption in The Corporate Sector

Mergel, I, Mugar, G, and Jarrahi, M.H. (2012).
Conference Paper 2012 I-Conference, Toronto, Canada, 7-10 February.


Social media increasingly pervade the business context. Despite the widespread fascination with the transformative capabilities of these tools, and an increased observability of online social media practices in the corporate sector, the adoption process at the organizational level as well as its consequences on policies and strategies are currently less understood. To ameliorate this gap, this study sets out to examine adoption patterns and their resulting organizational policies and strategies that influence or are influenced by specific adoption behaviors. In doing so, this study builds on findings of an interpretive case analysis, that integrates insights from various social media strategists, purposively selected from multiple industries. Guided by several technology adoption frameworks – primarily Orlikowski’s structurational analysis - three distinct pathways of social media adoption emerged from the data: (1) early adopters, (2) internal mavericks and (3) bandwagon jumpers. Each pathway is driven by either internal or external social behaviors, and leads to distinct organizational social media practices. Our data shows that existing organizational polices and norms mediate social media adoption practices while in turn, innovative adoption practices transform and influence the emergence of policies and norms in the form of a reflexive feedback mechanism.

On-line Course Registration Systems Usability: A Case Study of the e-Lion Course Registration System at The Pennsylvania State University

Ngamassi, L.M, Hills, Jarrahi, M.H, and Du, H. (2012).
Journal Paper International Journal of Information Systems and Social Change (IJISC), 3(4).


Electronic course registration systems allow students to select courses and giving student to access course offerings through these on-line systems as well as the ability to complete various administrative functions allows for better management of curriculum decisions in the context of academic objectives. The objective of these systems is to make this process more convenient and easier to achieve which has been met with varying levels of success. This study looks closely at one particular system, the e-Lion system at the Pennsylvania State University. Data was collected using semi-structured interviews and an online survey. The findings are discussed through the lens of the Delone and McLeane (D&M) information systems success model and are of interest to business practitioners fielding on-line systems in the areas of e-commerce and e-learning as well as many others, providing considerable insight into the importance of system usability.

Social Networking Technologies and Informal Knowledge Sharing in Organizations

Jarrahi, M.H and Steve Sawyer (2010).
Workshop Paper Organizations and Society in Information Systems (OASIS) Workshop, Saint Louis, MO, 12 December 2010.


This presentation investigates the role of corporate social networking technologies in knowledge sharing. Through this research we will investigate the take-up and uses of social network technologies (SNTs) by knowledge workers in formal social organizations. Our premise is that the uses of SNTs, and the personal networks of informal ties that this use both enables and encourages, are mutually constitutive. We focus on the mutual constitution of social networks and SNTs because organizations are increasingly finding information sharing initiatives imperative to their knowledge management activities, and social networking is the most well understood means to do this. In doing this research we pursue three contributions: (1) Conceptual insight and empirical support for the material nature and value of digitally-enabled social connections. (2) Advance current conceptual understanding of SNT’s organizational value. And, in doing this we build from and synthesize current and relevant research from several intellectual communities such as social computing, information systems, social network analysis, and organizational studies. (3) Articulate organizationally-relevant design and governance principles regarding SNT uses.

A Structurational Analysis of How Course Management Systems Are Used in Practice

Jarrahi, M.H. (2010).
Journal Paper Journal of Behavior and Information Technology, 29(3).


An understanding of the role of e-learning needs to be accompanied by a realisation of the variety of social dimensions in the innovation process. As most studies in this domain are typically context-independent, this research, building on structuration theory, seeks to investigate different interpretations and uses of course management systems (CMSs) in an academic context. For the purpose of this research, a case study has been conducted on the introduction of a CMS in a higher education institution. Findings from this empirical study have been drawn on to illuminate how this system is employed in disparate manners by different groups of academics and what are the reasons behind this discrepancy. The study also demonstrates that the practice lens (Orlikowski, W.J., 2000. Using technology and constituting structures: a practice lens for studying technology in organizations. Organization Science, 11 (4), 404–428), viewing the use of technology as a process of enactment, presents a useful insight for explanation and synthesis of the variations in usage patterns.

Informal Networks of Innovation

Jarrahi, M.H and Steve Sawyer. (2010).
Conference Paper Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, Montréal, Canada, 6-10 August, 2010


Innovation continues to draw scholarly attention across a range of disciplines and intellectual communities. Scholars from multiple disciplines offer up a diverse range of theories regarding technological innovation. Through this theoretical essay we review these conceptualizations of innovation practices and posit that (1) innovation processes are likely to take place through network-like arrangements and (2) these networks are often informal and long-standing. We argue that innovation is done through networks because these can best facilitate the exchange of innovative ideas and competencies. We also argue that innovation network structures are often based on extending and formalizing informal relationships among individual actors. Relative to our second point, we further note that there is little research which investigates the nature and influence of these informal interactions and their network structures. In an effort to address this gap, we build on our review of relevant existing literature to develop theoretical constructs which illuminate the constitution and the salience of informal networks of innovations. These theoretical constructs draw from the literatures of social network theory, communities of practice, invisible colleges, and actor network theory. Based on this review, a model of informal interaction is constructed which is constituted of human actors and social institutions, specific technological artifacts, innovative concepts and the time dimension. We conclude by elaborating on the interactions of these network components.

Informal Networks of Innovation: Stability in ‘Smallish’ Worlds, the Presence of Actants, and Institutions in the Background

Steve Sawyer and Jarrahi, M.H. (2009).
Workshop Paper Workshop on Information in Networks, Stern School of Business, New York University, New York, 25-26 September, 2009.


We report here on a detailed 'micro study' of informal networks of innovation. The goal of this study is greater empirical and conceptual understanding of the social structures that underlie technological innovation. For the empirical basis of this study, we focus attention to the small community of scholars, research labs, product companies, funding sources, and graduate students who are involved in table-top computing (with Microsoft's 'surface computing' product the most well known). Through a combination of interviews, bibliometric analysis and other secondary sources, we developed a detailed network depiction of the informal connections among key scholars, institutions (that provide resources), core technologies, and specific organizing concepts that draw these together. Our data illuminate the relative stability of informal social connections over time, the secondary importance of institutions, and the centrality of particular technologies/artifacts and concepts (in the Latourian sense of being actants). To explain this empirical insight we draw on and synthesize from work from the literatures of invisible colleges, communities of practice, social network theory, innovation and science and technology studies.

Review of Social Software in Libraries: Building Collaboration, Communication and Community Online, Meredith G. Farkas. Information Today, Inc., Medford New Jersey

Jarrahi, M.H. (2009)
Book Review Information Processing and Management, 45(3).


The book, “Social Software in Libraries”, introduces various applications of social software in contemporary libraries. It explores the growing phenomenon of social software and how these technologies can be applied in libraries. Farkas, as a distance learning Liberian, tries to present relevant constructs as simple as possible, so that a typical librarian could understand some of the cutting-edge technologies. She draws on the concepts of generation X throughout her book, illuminating the particularities of this generation. This sounds crucial since librarians are increasingly facing a generation that views the Internet as an inseparable and critical element of their lives.

The Contextuality Problem in Information Systems Research

Jarrahi, M.H and Steve Sawyer. (2009).
Conference Paper 2009 I-Conference, Chapel Hill, NC, 9-12 February, 2009.


Some forty years ago Simon (1969) used the metaphor of an ant crossing a beach to illustrate rudimentary principles of context-dependent behavior. The ant travels across the beach following what seems to be a wobbly line. The ant’s trajectory is complicated as the beach is strewn with pebbles, rocks, and other obstacles. The apparent complexity of the ant’s behavior as it moves seems largely a reflection of the complexity of the environment (the beach) in which it is embedded. This metaphor emphasizes the constraining and enabling roles that “context” can play in shaping behavior. This is echoed by system theory which asserts that any phenomenon has an "environment" with which it is inextricably intertwined (Porra 2001). More pointedly, Simon’s metaphor helps make clear that scholars of information systems, like most social scientists, build from an often implicit dynamic between micro-activity (the ant’s movements) and macro-structure (the obstacle-strewn beach). Acknowledging the complexity of any social reality leads us to examine the ongoing interactions between the micro and macro perspectives. To better understand these micro / macro interactions, a useful theoretical conceptualization needs to address the context within which the practices unfold. In doing so, the researcher must go through a process of contextualization. Contextualization is the “linking of observations to a set of relevant facts, events or point of view that make possible research and theory that form part of a larger whole.” (Rousseau et al. 2001) This contextualization process allows researchers to build situational and temporal conditions directly into their theories, and relate these to conceptualizations of embedded phenomena of interest. However, the contextualization process is framed by trade-offs. Contextualizing leads researchers to explore deeply the environment of study and to integrate the meanings and interpretations into their theoretical model. Paradoxically, and due to the idiosyncratic nature of each context, the results of this process will likely be considerably skewed towards the particularities of the context of study. As such, models engendered by context-rich studies are more difficult to abstract from and, hence, to generalize. We call this trade-off between rich contextual insight and cross-context generalization the contextuality problem. Several attempts within information system scholarship have been made to redress the problem (i.e. Webb and Mallon (2007) proposal for bridging the gap between generalizability and particularity in IS narrative research). However, this general vs. particular and breadth vs. depth tension continue to linger (Pentland 1999).