Spinuzzi, Clay. Network: Theorizing Knowledge Work in Telecommunications. New York: Cambridge, 2009.


Summary: Drawing on the work performed at a major telecommunications company as an example, Spinuzzi’s work in this book drives at the oft-repeated question: how does work get done when the right hand of a company doesn’t know what the left hand is doing? Theorizing the telecommunications company as a network, Spinuzzi draws on both Activity Theory and Actor-Network Theory to analyze the daily functioning of various departments within the company (or nodes within the network), paying particular attention to the ways genres develop and shift as workers communicate within and across their respective departments. By putting Activity Theory and Actor-Network Theory in conversation with one another, Spinuzzi hopes that the sharp divergences between these two theories will work to highlight some of the problematics of communication that exist within a network like the telecommunications company, while also helping us better understand how the network functions and how workers can better function/communicate within it.

Chapter Summaries:

  • “Networks, Genres, and Four Little Disruptions”: Sets up the book’s focus on networks and genres through four examples of communication “disruptions” in various nodes of the telecommunications network.
  • “What Is a Network”: Draws on an anecdote of a dog that was killed when accidentally let out of a gated yard during a service call to examine the telecommunications company as a network. Discusses in particular what it means to look at network through AT and ANT and describes the four characteristics of a network (heterogeneous, multiply linked, transformative, black-boxed).
  • “How Are Networks Theorized?”: Takes a more in-depth look at the development of AT and ANT, emphasizing weaving as the primary means of network development in AT and splicing as the primary means of network development in ANT.
  • “How Are Networks Historicized?”: Discusses the history of the telecommunications field through the perspectives of AT and ANT.
  • “How Are Networks Enacted?”: Considers net work within contemporary paradigms of capitalism and the information age. Discusses the way texts circulate through networks.
  • “Is Our Network Learning?”: Takes up the problems of training and the circulation of work-related information in a network that experiences rapid changes, distributed work, and high turn-over rates. Considers some of the creative measures workers have taken to create learn their jobs and to share training information with other workers, while also considering some of the problematics of these ad-hoc methods.
  • “Conclusion: How Does Net Work Work?”: Takes up the question of how this study of a telecommunications company might impact what workers do within the network, how these workers are managed, and what researchers should do as they study these networks.

Notes on Chapter 5: “How Are Networks Enacted?”

  • “This is what I’ve been calling the net work, the coordinative work that weaves and splices divergent work activities and that enables the standing sets of transformations that characterize such work” (135).
  • Net work distinguished from modular work imagined through chained activity networks that have been used to characterize the production of objects–gives a singular and monocontextual picture of work rather than the distributed picture of work that we get from the rhizomatic network.
  • Net work and informational capitalism characterized through co-configuration: constant interaction between producer, consumer, and products/services.
  • Net work within information age: “links across agents increase dramatically, leading to greater horizontal complexity across and within organizations” (140)
  • Net work within the informatics of domination: move from disciplinary societies (a la Foucault) to increasingly horizontal control societies
  • “In this context, organizational, spatial, and temporal boundaries become less important than the fluctuating networked connections. Organizational charts are maps that do not show the hidden passes of the organization. Net work involves establishing and negotiating those hidden passes, organizing work through weaving and splicing.” (144)
  • Looking at texts in three (related) senses: as inscriptions, as genres, and as boundary objects
  • Texts as inscriptions: deleting materiality of processes by reducing them to texts so that workers can deal with abstractions, multiple inscriptions instantiate multiple realities
  • Texts as genres: “Types of inscriptions tend to develop over time within particular activities to meet recurrent needs. These genres provide a developmental, stabilizing influence on human activity.” (146) Also described as a “tool-in-use” (147). Individual genres exist within woven and spliced genre economies that workers rely on as the communicate within and across various nodes of the network.
  • Texts as boundary objects: “a boundary object is often an assemblage of related texts (inscriptions, genres) that collectively plays different roles in overlapping activities” (148).
  • Genres can have syntagmatic dimensions (additive ‘and’ properties) and paradigmatic dimensions (substitutive).