A Language of Objects and Artifacts: Concepts of materiality in practice-based approaches to knowing in organizations

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This is a conceptual inquiry about materiality. It gives an introductory overview to the vocabulary of materiality in a chosen selection of theories. The paper shows a language of artifacts and objects as it is used within practice-based approaches to organizational knowing. The examined intellectual traditions are interpretive-cultural approaches; activity theory; and sociology of translation. Similarities and differences are presented in the way these three distinct intellectual traditions conceptualize the array of material objects and artifacts which are central in the tales of practice.

The paper looks into the mediatedness of knowing and doing in organizations. The intellectual traditions which are scrutinized all agree that ‘doing’ is materially embedded – that objects and artifacts are central to both knowing and learning. But what is their understanding of materiality? With which concepts do the theories attempt to grasp tools and design objects – furniture, graphics, flutes-in-making and built space?

The paper shows which concepts are used and it demonstrates how the interaction between social and material realities are viewed. Furthermore it highlights some of the ontological and epistemological assumptions which can be traced from the distinct conceptualizations – ranging from materialist ontologies to interpretivist epistemologies. The contribution of the paper is an overview of vocabularies of materiality within a selected specimen of practice-based approaches, and thus it contributes to the further development of the conceptual understanding of the tangible, embedded, embodied, artifactual and object-related side of organizational knowing.

The vocabulary is theoretically generated and is based on the anthology “Knowing in Organizations – A Practice-Based Approach” edited by Nicolini, Gherardi &Yanow. In its cross-reading the paper explicitly focuses on the material sides of practice, where the primary concepts found are those of artifact and object.

Original languageEnglish
Publication date2007
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2007
EventEGOS. Beyond Waltz – Dances of Individuals and OrganizationStanding working group: Practice-Based Studies of Knowledge and Innovation - Wien, Austria
Duration: 5 Jul 20077 Jul 2007


ConferenceEGOS. Beyond Waltz – Dances of Individuals and OrganizationStanding working group: Practice-Based Studies of Knowledge and Innovation


  • materiality
  • practice-based approaches to organizational knowing

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