Global software and its provenance: Generification work in the production of organizational software packages

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This paper addresses the seemingly implausible project of establishing a 'generic' organizational information system. This is an apparent contradiction: on the one hand, we are told of the diversity of specific organizational contexts and on the other, we often find the same standardized software solutions being applied across those settings. How do generic software packages work in so many different contexts? Science and Technology Studies provides contrasting accounts of how this contradiction is resolved: either stressing the unwanted organizational change that standardized systems may bring; or, alternatively, insisting these technologies can only be made to work through processes of 'localization'. We argue that the focus on specificity versus localization of application contexts draws attention away from enquiring into the origins and characteristics of generic solutions. Through comparing the design and evolution of two software packages we shift the debate from understanding how technologies are made to work within particular settings to how they are built to work across a diverse range of organizational contexts. Our question is 'How do software packages achieve the mobility that allows them to bridge the heterogeneity within organizations and between organizations in different sectors and cultures?' We describe a set of revealed strategies through which suppliers produce software that embodies characteristics common across many users; what we term generification work. One aspect of this process of generification is the configuring of users within 'managed communities', but it also includes 'smoothing' the contents of the package and, at times, reverting to 'social authority'. Our argument is that generic systems do exist but that they are brought into being through an intricately managed process, involving the broader extension of a particularized software application and, at the same time, the management of the user community attached to that solution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)254-280
Number of pages27
JournalSocial Studies of Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2007


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