Sub-theme 55: Bridging the Real and the Virtual in a Digital World

Karin Garrety, School of Management at the University of Wollongong, Australia
Ian McLoughlin, Monash University, Australia
Rob Wilson, University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK

Call for Papers

In recent decades we have seen much 'cyberbole' about an emerging 'virtual society' in which digital technologies are supposedly transforming our lives. This putative transformation hinges on a polarity between computer-generated 'virtual' experiences and mundane everyday 'realities' in which we are limited by natural and built environments, geography, linear experiences of time and the confines of our bodies. In the virtual world the tyrannies of space, time, distance, objects and bodies can, to some extent, be overcome.

Our analytical resources are arguably deficient to explain the organisational phenomena rapidly emerging on the back of advances in digital technologies. Where do the virtual, the material and the social fit in with everyday organisational experiences and practice? Is the virtual in the digital world 'material' or 'social' or both? Post-contingency theory organisation studies rejected 'technological determinism' in all its guises. Instead, various forms of constructivism and social shaping were developed, tempered by attempts to bring the material back in (McLoughlin & Dawson, 2003).


In a radically new approach Barad (2007) suggests we need to rethink the bridge between the material and the social. This idea has been taken up enthusiastically in recent practice-based and sociomaterial approaches (e.g. Orlikowsk, 2010) which seek to avoid 'throwing the technology baby out with the determinist bathwater' (Clark et al., 1988). Bridging work, it seems, remains at the core of making, and making sense of social and organisational experiences in the digital world. The notion of bridging provides the basis for this sub-theme as a forum to reflect on and investigate relationships between virtual technologies and the real world organisations and settings in which they are developed, taken up and used (or not).

In particular, we welcome papers on the following:

  • Bridging Distance (physical, social, cultural, geographical): Beyond the hype, how are technologies such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, ambient intelligence and immersive technology being used in organisations, and with what effects, to overcome the tyranny of distance?
  • Bridging Time: In the virtual world everything is speeded up. Virtual realities bridge time or even suspend notions of time in a conventional sense (e.g. gaming and simulation environments) through 24-hour global production or the creation of immersive virtual collaborative environments.
  • Bridging Space (home, work and third places): The cybercafé has emerged as the archetypal 'third place' in which innovation can occur in ways that are not so readily achieved elsewhere. Does virtual technology now allow a bridging between these spatial settings in ways hitherto unimagined (e.g. bridging video games with other activities, such as learning and work tasks)?
  • Bridging Projects: In the past decade we have seen some large and expensive IT projects fail spectacularly. What do they tell us about the ways we understand and manage (or fail to manage) bridges between the virtual and the real?
  • Bridging Citizen and State by making public services virtual. For example, government sponsored websites with advice about health, social security, immigration, law and so on are changing the way services are delivered.
  • Bridging Discourse and Cultural Practice: Efforts to improve technology design by involving potential users have been plagued by the inability of users and designers to commmunicate in a common language. Is a new and different discourse or cultural practice required to capture sociomaterial performativity? How can diverse worldviews be managed and harnessed to produce knowledge that is relevant and meaningful to practitioners from different disciplines?



Barad, Karen (2007): Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Clark, Jon, Ian McLoughlin, Howard Rose & Robin King (1988): The Process of Technological Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mcloughlin, Ian & Patrick Dawson (2003): 'The mutual shaping of technology and organisation.' In: D. Preece & J. Laurila (eds.): Technological Change and Organizational Action. London: Routledge.
Orlikowski, Wanda J. (2010): 'The sociomateriality of organisational life: considering technology in management research.' Cambridge Journal of Economics, 34, 125–141.


Karin Garrety is Senior Lecturer in the School of Management at the University of Wollongong in Australia. She is currently co-ordinating a retrospective, comparative analysis (with Ian McLoughlin and Rob Wilson) of attempts to establish large-scale electronic health record systems in Australia and England, funded by the Australian Research Council.
Ian McLoughlin is Professor of Management and Head of the Department of Management at Monash University. His current research focuses on e-health care delivery and related innovations. A new book – "Digital Government@Work: Technological and organisational change in public services" (with Rob Wilson) – is due to be published by Oxford University Press in 2012.
Rob Wilson is Senior Lecturer at the University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK. His research interests are in public service innovation and socio-technical systems, and in the role of information and information systems in education, particularly higher education.