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The 24th EGOS Colloquium 2008  

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Postdoctoral pre-colloquium workshop

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Sub-theme 27:

Spatial Mobility and Mobile Technology at Work: Examining the Dark Side



Donald Hislop
Loughborough University (UK)

Carsten Sorensen
London School of Economics and Political Science (UK)

Keith Townsend
Queensland University of Technology (Australia)

Call for papers

The increasing mobility of goods, people, information, money, and culture, represents one of key features of contemporary society. These changes are reflected in some of the ways in which organizations, and work, are changing. Work is more and more often 'leaking' out of static locations such as offices, with the extent to which many workers are spatially mobile increasing significantly. Related to this, workers are beginning to make use of mobile technologies such as mobile phones, blackberry devices, PDA type handheld computers and laptop computers.

The dominant discourse hails the advent of mobile technologies as a means of liberating work from geographical and temporal constraints. However, much less effort has been devoted to understanding the darker side of this development. The concern in this sub-theme is to examine some of the potentially dysfunctional and negative consequences of these changes.

Potentially, these changes have profound implications in a number of domains including the way time and space are conceptualized and experienced, the nature of work and workplaces, and the nature of the boundary between the work and non-work aspects of people's lives. More specifically, some of the ways in which these changes have the potential to upset existing social and organizational arrangements are:

  • Changing people's communication patterns with work colleagues, family and friends. The possibility of perpetual contact offered by mobile communication technologies has the potential to change the way people manage their presence and 'absent presence'.
  • Blurring and changing the work/non-work boundary. The negative implications of this are that work may increasingly intrude on and colonize non-work time and space.
  • The leaking of work out of the workplace into public spaces such as cafes, airport lounges, trains etc also has a number of potential negative consequences not only for workers travelling through and working in these spaces but also for the people who share these spaces with them. Most fundamentally, such activity changes the nature of public spaces and blurs the public/private boundary.
  • Another potential negative implication of work (and workers) leaking out of office spaces, and of workers finding themselves increasingly being separated from work colleagues is that such work patterns may create both a sense of isolation for such workers and a perceived need to constantly demonstrate that work is done.
  • The way in which the desire of mobile workers to be (seen to be) always available to others can also result in dysfunctional and dangerous behaviour such as taking mobile phone calls while driving.
  • The way mobile technologies allow employees 'new' ways to engage in 'old' forms of resistance. Employees' engaging in acts of sabotage, 'time theft' or misbehaviour is not new; but has mobile technology provided employees with new ways to engage in such actions?
  • Mobile technologies allowing easier horizontal coordination between peers as well as increased experience of work pressure and surveillance. This challenges the understanding of the granularity of control and the ease by which micro-coordination of activities are possible raising questions about worker discretion.

In addressing these issues it is important to be specific about technology. There are a diverse range of different mobile technologies with different features and levels of functionality. Thus different technological devices have the potential to have quite distinctive impacts. Related, it is also important to be specific about the type of spatial mobility patterns examined as they can be highly diverse, having different impacts on all of the above issues. We are also interested in the nature of the corporate strategies which also underlie these changes. Arguably, corporate strategies of hot-desking and home-working have contributed to the increasing spatial mobility of work. Papers which examine the role played by corporate strategy in facilitating these changes are thus also welcomed.

Contributors should not feel constrained by the above list of issues. We welcome all abstracts which explore the negative and dysfunctional aspects of work related spatial mobility and mobile technology use. Both empirical and conceptual papers are welcomed, but ideally we would like papers which integrate both. The sub-theme aims to stimulate a constructive theoretical debate. Thus, we also welcome papers utilizing any theoretical perspectives that advance the way spatial mobility and mobile technology are understood and conceptualized. One of the interesting challenges for academics examining these issues is the diversity of ways these processes, artefacts and experiences can be conceptualized.

About the convenors

Donald Hislop is a Senior Lecturer at Loughborough University Business School. His research interests are broadly in the area of knowledge management, the use of mobile technologies in work, and spatial mobility in work. He has published a wide range of journal articles and is the author of the textbook, Knowledge Management: A Critical Introduction (Oxford University Press). His recent research has involved doing a study of train-based working. He is also editing a book for Routledge drawing together the work of an international range of authors called Mobility and Technology in the Workplace.

Carsten Sørensen is a Senior Lecturer in Information Systems at The London School of Economics and Political Science. Carsten is researching how mobile services shape and are shaped by emerging social practices and organizational forms. In 2001 he founded the mobility@lse ( research network. Carsten has editorial involvement in a number of journals including Journal of Information Systems, Information and Organization, The e-Service Journal, and the Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems. He is an Academic Advisor for The Institute for Innovation & Information Productivity (, and was a member of the Advisory Board for the iSociety project at The Work Foundation.

Keith Townsend is a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Management at Queensland University of Technology, Australia. Keith is currently involved in an Australian Research Council funded project examining Work Life Balance initiatives in the Construction Industry. His has published research examining the manner in which mobile telephones are affecting employees, managers and work. Keith has also published a number of articles that consider employee misbehaviour and resistance in the workplace. Keith recently hosted a conference titled 'Work, Industrial Relations and Popular Culture' and is currently the book review editor of Labour and Industry.