PhD Thesis: Understandings of Technology in Community-Based Organisations: A Structurational Analysis (2006)

PhD Thesis, Monash University, Faculty of Information Technology, 2006.

My thesis is posted on the assumption that it won’t be plagiarized or otherwise abused. Plagarism is theft, including the unacknowledged use of original diagrams and figures. If you cite or otherwise use such a document, acknowledge it!

If you are interested in structuration theory, theories of technology in the community, grounded theory research, women, work and technology, community informatics, social-technical research, bits and pieces about Foucault, Heidegger and their understanding of technology, or community development, the problem of human and machine agency, and the mix and match of community and technology, then you might find something useful in it for your practice and research.

Reflecting on the 3+ years of work that went into this to gain an academic credential, there is of course the other side of the equation: that years of such work take place at a remove from the people you are (ethically) concerned with: what use is such distanced information from them?

Abstract

This thesis is a study of the understandings of technology in the lives of community workers in Neighbourhood Houses, a type of small community-based organisation. Through the examination of structuration theory and various theories of technology, it demonstrates the significance of particular normative frameworks to workers in forming attitudes about how common personal computer technologies and the Internet are utilised. Interviews were analysed via a Grounded Theory methodology to generate new conceptual frameworks.

The thesis also studies the transmission of personal and institutional values and frameworks across time and space as a means of understanding the significance of such cultures in the life of local communities, particularly when the focus of activity is closely linked to women’s home-based responsibilities.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) in community settings can be reconceived as an agent embedded in complex sets of support, teaching, community development and home-based relationships. This basket of processes and skills can be conceived of as ‘technologies of care’. While the artifactual technologies and their genres such as email that were investigated for this study are commonplace and relatively simple systems (personal computers, Internet), they are part of complex, and extended systems of action, knowledge, information and support that reach into local communities and the home. The human dimension is invariably raised as a key factor in the use of ICTs. ICTs are only one (but important) element in the networked process which brings about better lives for people.

ICTs are therefore regarded as useful tools with an attractive agency, for the pragmatic communication possibilities they offer, rather than a discomforting adjunct to work or home life. ICTs by and large have been ‘domesticated’ by women uses, nor are ICTs to be conceived of as controlling human agency. The spectre of domination by Foucault’s capillaries of panoptical power is not has not been achieved. Such a socially-networked or embedded, yet relatively autonomous communicative artifact can be distinguished from the administrative use of technology that is also an adjunct to more formal systems of governance. By and large, if technology is trusted and reliable, then it can be incorporated into everyday life. While ICTs, particularly in relationship to administrative responsibilities can appear to have strong agency, this is a controllable, and is rationalised as an essential, and ordinary, part of the process of work activity. This explains the interviewees’ lack of apparent concern about power imbalances in technologically-constructed relationships at home or work.

It is important to recognise such localised and situated understandings if there is to be stronger theoretical and productive policy response to the effective use of ICTs by community-based agencies as they increasingly use ICTs for work with clients, internal management, and communication with other agencies, businesses, and government.

Stillman Thesis Revised Jan30 2007

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