E-infrastructures: How Do We Know and Understand Them: Strategic Ethnography and the Biography of Artefacts

Research output: Contribution to journalSpecial issuepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In health research and services, and in many other domains, we note the emergence of
large-scale information systems intended for long-term use with multiple users and uses. These einfrastructures
are becoming more widespread and pervasive and, by enabling effective sharing of
information and coordination of activities between diverse, dispersed groups, are expected to
transform knowledge-based work. Social scientists have sought to analyse the significance of these
systems and the processes by which they are created. Much current attention has been drawn to the
often-problematic experience of those attempting to establish them. By contrast, this paper is
inspired by concerns about the theoretical and methodological weakness of many studies of
technology and work organisation—particularly the dominance of relatively short-term, often single
site studies of technology implementation. These weaknesses are particularly acute in relation to the
analysis of infrastructural technologies. We explore the relevance to such analysis of recent
developments in what we call the Biography of Artefacts (BoA) perspective—which emphasises the
value of strategic ethnography: theoretically-informed, multi-site and longitudinal studies: We seek
to draw insights here from a programme of empirical research into the long-term evolution of
corporate e-infrastructures (reflected in current Enterprise Resource Planning systems) and review
some new conceptual tools arising from recent research into e-Infrastructures (e-Is). These are
particularly relevant to understanding the current and ongoing difficulties encountered in attempts to
develop large-scale Health Infrastructures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)521-556
JournalComputer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW)
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • e-infrastructures
  • biography of artefacts (BoA) approach
  • strategic ethnography
  • enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems
  • health infrastructures


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