Technological innovations in voluntary organisations: towards a sociology of relaxed infrastructures
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This thesis is motivated by the need to explore the relationships between technology and volunteerism. Despite the fact that information and communication technologies (ICTs) proliferate within voluntary organisations and have an obvious effect on volunteering practice, the literature on the relationships between such technologies and voluntary contexts is scant. This is particularly in terms of its insights with regard to the actual processes of production and consumption of these technologies within the sector. This interdisciplinary research project was carried out to answer a central research problem: how do information technologies interrelate with human activities in voluntary settings? In throwing light on this problem, an ethnographic case-oriented study was conducted in a Scottish community-based sports organisation over the course of two years. This research has utilised insights from the Sociology of Technology, Information Systems Research and Organisational Sociology to find out how human actors’ interactions with technology play out in the context of volunteer-involving organisations, and to conceptualise the complexity of the unfolding of technology in relation to the specific characteristics of volunteering activities. To unpack the core research question, three types of sociotechnical interactions were identified as the most relevant: these were ‘service’, ‘identity’ and ‘ecological’. My analysis of the empirical data suggests that there are different domains within which these critical interactions are assembled. In my research, three different domains (drifting, conditioning and imbricating) have thematically emerged when sociotechnical interactions were being mapped out in (a) shadowing a technology project, (b) analysing technological non-use and (c) rethinking organisational persistence in the selected observed case. This thesis argues for an ‘infrastructural’ approach when studying technology so as to extend our understanding about technology-initiated improvement projects in the sector. This research argues that accomplishing volunteer work requires complicated mixture of sociomaterial assemblages, including ICTs, which are embedded in the everyday life of volunteers, paid staff and their community. Furthermore, this study discusses that existing analytical infrastructural approaches developed in relation to artefact-oriented, large-scale sociotechnical networks need some modification to be satisfyingly applied in low-tech, mundane settings such as volunteer work in amateur sports.