Inscribing Individuals into a Formalized System: The “Labour” Performed by Affective Spaces

  • Alexandra Toll
  • Melissa Mazmanian
Conference paper
Part of the IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology book series (IFIPAICT, volume 489)


A substantial amount of ongoing work in organizations can be characterized as processes of formalization in which unique circumstances are rendered legible to organizational frameworks and inscribed into institutionalized ways of knowing and doing. Embedded in these processes is the need to manage, distance, and condition the affective and physical experience of the players involved. Using twelve months of ethnographic data gathered in the Family Law unit of the courts in a large county of California, we explore how formalization happens. We find that a dynamic combination of actants (technologies of formalization) engender affective spaces that serve as passage points in the process of formalization. These affective spaces condition the bodies and emotions of customers in a manner that generally mitigates unstable intensity and renders the customer ready to focus on the “facts” of the case. We suggest that by attending to the multiple actants in an environment we are able to interrogate both the origin and effects of “affect” as well as better understand how key passage points work in the service of formalization processes. In so doing we expand the conversation about the challenges of public service delivery and put forth the beginning of a theory of how affective spaces serve organizational and institutional goals.


Ethnography Practice Sociomateriality Affect Formalization Process Inscription 


  1. 1.
    Adler, P.S., Borys, B.: Two types of bureaucracy: enabling and coercive. Adm. Sci. Q. 41, 61–89 (1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Battilana, J., Sengul, M., Pache, A.C., Model, J.: Harnessing productive tensions in hybrid organizations: the case of work integration social enterprises. Acad. Manag. J. 58(6), 1658–1685 (2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Canales, R.: Weaving straw into gold: managing organizational tensions between standardization and flexibility in microfinance. Organ. Sci. 25(1), 1–28 (2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Grimaldi, R., Torrisi, S.: Codified-tacit and general-specific knowledge in the division of labour among firms: a study of the software industry. Res. Policy 30(9), 1425–1442 (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Wouters, M., Wilderom, C.: Developing performance-measurement systems as enabling formalization: a longitudinal field study of a logistics department. Account. Organ. Soc. 33(4), 488–516 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Vlaar, P.W., Van Den Bosch, F.A., Volberda, H.W.: Towards a dialectic perspective on formalization in interorganizational relationships: how alliance managers capitalize on the duality inherent in contract rules procedures. Organ. Stud. 28(4), 437–466 (2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ouchi, W.G.: A conceptual framework for the design of organizational control mechanisms. Manag. Sci. 25(9), 833–848 (1979)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Morand, D.A.: The role of behavioral formality and informality in the enactment of bureaucratic versus organic organizations. Acad. Manag. Rev. 20(4), 831–872 (1995)Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Martin, J., Knopoff, K., Beckman, C.: An alternative to bureaucratic impersonality and emotional labor: bounded emotionality at the body shop. Adm. Sci. Q. 43, 429–469 (1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Weber, M.: The Theory of Economic and Social Organization. Oxford University Press, New York (1947). Translated by A.M. Henderson and Talcott ParsonsGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Gerth, H.H., Mills, C.W.: From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Oxford University Press, New York (1946). Translated by H.H. Gerth and Paul KeganGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Hochschild, A.R.: The Managed Heart. University of California Press, Berkeley (1983)Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Clough, P.T., Halley, J. (eds.): The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social. Duke University Press, Durham (2007)Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Navaro-Yashin, Y.: Affective spaces, melancholic objects: ruination and the production of anthropological knowledge. J. R. Anthropol. Inst. 15(1), 1–18 (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Reckwitz, A.: Affective spaces: a praxeological outlook. Rethinking Hist. 16(2), 241–258 (2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Callon, M.: Some elements of a sociology of translation. In: Law, J. (ed.) Power, Action and Belief: A New Sociology of Knowledge: Sociology Review Monograph, pp. 196–229. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London (1986)Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Latour, B.: Science in action: how to follow scientists and engineers through society. Harvard University Press, Cambridge (1987)Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Callon, M.: Techno-economic networks and irreversibility. In: Law, J. (ed.) A Sociology of Monsters: Essays on Power, Technology and Domination, pp. 132–161. Routledge, London (1991)Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Akrich, M.: The description of technical objects. In: Bijker, W., Law, J. (eds.) Shaping Technology/Building Society, pp. 205–244. MIT Press, Cambridge (1992)Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Moser, I., Law, J.: Good passages, bad passages. Sociol. Rev. 47(S1), 196–219 (1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Latour, B.: Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York (2005)Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Corbin, J., Strauss, A.: Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory. Sage, London and Thousand Oaks (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Charmaz, K.: Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide Through Qualitative Research. Sage, London (2006)Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Parsons, T.: The Social System. Routledge, London (1951)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© IFIP International Federation for Information Processing 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Paul Merage School of BusinessUC IrvineIrvineUSA
  2. 2.School of Information and Computer SciencesUC IrvineIrvineUSA

Personalised recommendations