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Bringing power and knowledge together: information systems design for autonomy and control in command work
Linköping University, Department of Computer and Information Science, MDALAB - Human Computer Interfaces. Linköping University, The Institute of Technology.
2000 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

THIS THESIS PRESENTS an empirical ethnographic study that has been conducted as fieldwork within army command organizations, leading to a qualitative analysis of data. The title of the thesis captures the contents of both command work and research, both domains being affected by new technologies during a period of drastic changes in the military institution. The overriding research question was why efforts to implement modern information technology are so slow, costly, and why the contribution from the output as regards higher control efficiency is so uncertain. Two cases will be described and analysed. One is a meeting and the other is the development of a computer artefact. Based on these two cases, the study suggests that social value and not only rational control efficiency defines what is applied, both in the development process and in practice. Knowledge and power, expertise and authority, represented by experts and formal leaders have to be brought together if the work is to be efficient. Both knowledge from research and information technology will be rejected, if considered irrelevant. I have called this applying a rationality of practice.

From the case analysis it can be said that command work is not ordinary managerial work. Rather, it is a kind of design work, dynamic and hard to define and control. Command work is knowledge-intensive; it designs and produces symbols. Therefore it is very flexible and involves interpretation and negotiation of both its content and products. The most important symbol is the Army, which must be visible and credible, built from real components.

Command work is pragmatic and opportunistic, conducted by experts in the modern military command structure who transform the operational environment, and control it through controlling actions. In that respect autonomy, a prerequisite to meet evolving events—frictions—and power become core issues, interchangeable goals and means for flexible social control, in cybernetic terms variety. Key concepts are social value, function and visibility. Actors must be visible in the command work, and make work visible. Consequently, when designing control tools, such as information systems, the design challenge is to reconcile dynamic and pragmatic demands for power, autonomy and control with demands for stability. Such an organization becomes a viable system, one that can survive, because there is no conflict between its mind and physical resources. In operational terms, this means having freedom of action. The prerequisite to achieve this is one perspective on knowledge and information and that information systems match the needs growing from within the work because work builds the organization.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2000. , 358 p.
Linköping Studies in Science and Technology. Dissertations, ISSN 0345-7524 ; 639
Keyword [en]
ethnographic, army command organizations, military, rationality of practice, design work, autonomy, events-frictions-and power, viable system, freedom of action
National Category
Computer Science
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-4926ISBN: 91-7219-796-XOAI: diva2:20815
Public defence
2000-09-15, Hörsal VTI, Olaus Magnus väg 37, Linköping, 13:15 (English)
Available from: 2000-09-29 Created: 2000-09-29 Last updated: 2012-01-24Bibliographically approved

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