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Processes in organising reconditioned computers and vulnerable people - the untold story

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNAbstract

Published
Publication date31/07/2016
Host publicationOrganizational discourse: silence, significance and white space
Pages102-103
Number of pages2
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

In an attempt to address the conference theme this paper seeks to bring together two empirical studies. Both studies were initiated by non-profit organisations and both are focused on the organising of reconditioned computers and the social inclusion of vulnerable people in these processes of organising. The first of these non-profit organisations was for disabled people and the project initiated by them we will call ‘CommunITy’. This is a project that aimed to introduce reconditioned computers to disabled people in order to get them better, more effectively, ‘electronically’ connected to society – the assumption being that disabled people suffer from issues of social exclusion as a result of their inability to get out of the house as often as able-bodied people. Providing them with a computer and internet access was considered to assist with reducing this social exclusion. One of the authors of this paper was an active participant within this particular project and involved with the recruitment and selection of ‘suitable’ users, the delivery and installation of computers into selected users’ homes and an evaluation of the project as a whole. She saw therefore and participated with many aspects of the project that were involved in its implementation.

The second non-profit organisation we will call ‘Green NPO’. The goals of this organisation were threefold: “to ease poverty by providing furniture and used goods to individuals from economical disadvantage backgrounds”, "to reduce the amount of household goods that end up in landfill" and "to offer training to assist unemployed individuals with their re-entry back to work". Since 2005 Green NPO have offered a ReuseIT project that redirects computers from landfill, offering specific back to work training in IT products, repair and maintenance, and computer access to people identified as socially and economically disadvantaged through the selling of reconditioned computers at a low cost (some were as cheap as £40.00). At the time of this research, the assumption was that computers were expensive, held considerable financial value and not everyone could afford these so this project could overcome some of the problems of access to IT associated with costs. In addition, reconditioning and reducing the cost of computers seemed a positive way forward in terms of reducing social exclusion by offering work opportunities which would/could reduce the cost of computers. The second author of this paper spent time following the trajectory of a computer through the organisation from its donation, collection, assessment, repair, refurbishment to its resale or dismantling. She worked closely with the volunteers involved in the project and as a result gained rich insights into the working practices of the ReuseIT project.

Arguably both projects see IT skills as integral to modern day society and inclusion in society as requiring everyone to have the right to access information electronically. The focus of both therefore can be identified as on getting what are seen as vulnerable people more ‘connected’ to society. What we will demonstrate in a fuller paper is that the seemingly straightforward processes that are seen to take place in order to make these projects a success (both of which were identified as successful) are not as straightforward as they may seem. In the first project, the recruitment and selection of disabled people, the delivery and installation of the computer with the assumption of internet connection and the subsequent evaluation of the project; and, in the second the resale of reconditioned computers, the diversion of computers from landfill, the training provision for back to work schemes and individuals gainfully employed. Working as active participants within the projects both authors were able to identify how in order to organise the projects the disorganised messy nature of both projects became glossed over/hidden. More specifically, as a result of the active nature of both researchers involvement they could not only identify the disorganised but also played key roles in the active constitution of both projects. Accordingly, from a methodological point of view there were not only rational and somewhat abstract choices made but also and more importantly choices made which were conditioned by a series of ongoing circumstances and events. Expressed differently, Heritage (1992) argues ‘Actions-as-constitutive-of-their-settings and settings-as-constitutive-of-their-actions are two halves of a simultaneous equation which the actors are continually, solving through a mass of methodic procedures.’ (p. 308) We aim to explicitly highlight the role of the researchers in the shaping of the projects in a fuller paper.

Drawing initially on Cooper (1986) and his discussions of organisation/disorganisation this paper seeks to reflect on and uncover the disorganised (silence) and in turn highlight its significance in terms of understanding the involvement of objects/technologies and subjects/bodies in the processes of organising that took place during the implementation of both of these projects. To do this we will draw on the actor network perspective, which allows for an identification of the networks that are built and in turn glossed over as projects like the two being discussed are enacted/performed. As Law (1997) argues as technologies begin to move (in the empirical cases here this relates to the reconditioned computers), they change and so do ‘the social and technical relations around it (p. 3).’ In summary, in an attempt to uncover the performances taking place as the projects were enacted the paper to be developed will explore both as on-going and emergent sociomaterial accomplishments.

References:

Cooper R (1986) – Organization/Disorganization – Social Science Information, 25(2):299-335
Heritage J (1992) Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology, Polity Press
Law J (2003) Traduction/Trahison: Notes on ANT Centre for Science Studies, Lancaster University, Lancaster