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Car Crashes without Cars

Car Crashes without Cars: Lessons about Simulation Technology and Organizational Change from Automotive Design

Paul M. Leonardi
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Car Crashes without Cars
    Book Description:

    Every workday we wrestle with cumbersome and unintuitive technologies. Our response is usually "That's just the way it is." Even technology designers and workplace managers believe that certain technological changes are inevitable and that they will bring specific, unavoidable organizational changes. In this book, Paul Leonardi offers a new conceptual framework for understanding why technologies and organizations change as they do and why people think those changes had to occur as they did. He argues that technologies and the organizations in which they are developed and used are not separate entities; rather, they are made up of the same building blocks: social agency and material agency. Over time, social agency and material agency become imbricated--gradually interlocked--in ways that produce some changes we call "technological" and others we call "organizational." Drawing on a detailed field study of engineers at a U.S. auto company, Leonardi shows that as the engineers developed and used a a new computer-based simulation technology for automotive design, they chose to change how their work was organized, which then brought new changes to the technology.Each imbrication of the social and the material obscured the actors' previous choices, making the resulting technological and organizational structures appear as if they were inevitable. Leonardi suggests that treating organizing as a process of sociomaterial imbrication allows us to recognize and act on the flexibility of information technologies and to create more effective work organizations.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30577-8
    Subjects: Business, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Perceptions of Inevitability
    (pp. 1-20)

    In August of 2005, a team of experienced technology developers at Autoworks—the pseudonym that will be used here for a major American automaker¹—filed into a dark conference room for yet another meeting with consultants from a young and eager software startup firm. In the past two years, Autoworks’ team of developers had met with representatives from the startup at least two dozen times to discuss the specifications for CrashLab, a computer-based simulation technology that was supposed to “revolutionize product design work at Autoworks.” Looking at the faces of the consultants from the startup, one could see they were...

  5. 2 Between Technological and Organizational Change
    (pp. 21-54)

    Virtually all social scientific research on technology and organization—whether by promoting or denying it—owes some intellectual debt to technologically deterministic thinking. Early studies adopted deterministic perspectives to provide causal explanations of technological and organizational change, and recent researchers have worked hard to empirically falsify the logic of technological determinism. Generally, the determinist’s thesis is underwritten by two guiding propositions. The first suggests that technological change occurs independent of human action. The second argues that organizational change is caused by the introduction of a new technology into an established social system. Since the early 1970s, researchers in several disciplines...

  6. 3 Crashworthiness Analysis at Autoworks
    (pp. 55-84)

    The framework laid out in chapter 2 suggests several important considerations for the ethnographic study of mutually constitutive technological and organizational change. First, understanding the social construction process surrounding any technology means collecting data on the events that occur during development, implementation, and use of the technology. Focusing on one set of activities to the exclusion of another would lead to only a partial understanding of how technologies and organizations change one another. Second, the researcher must be able to track the “relevant social groups” involved in the processes of change within each community, how those groups negotiate and come...

  7. 4 Developing Problems and Solving Technologies
    (pp. 85-130)

    A growing number of methodologies for developing new technologies suggest that unless developers understand the needs of their users, they will generate products that have little impact on the organizations that use them and the markets that support them. Because most technology development efforts are considered successful only if the capabilities of the new technology fit the needs of the social context in which it is implemented (Leonard-Barton 1988; Tyre and Hauptman 1992), it seems essential to understand the problems a user community faces before selecting and developing a new technology’s features. Indeed, research suggests that identifying a set of...

  8. 5 Articulating Visions of Technology and Organization
    (pp. 131-176)

    By 1995, crashworthiness analysts were still playing a decidedly reactive role in the vehicle development process at Autoworks. Design engineers alerted analysts when CAD releases of parts or subassemblies were ready for testing, and analysts worked to validate the crashworthiness performance of the designs. Late that same year, Autoworks held its first annual CAE conference. The aim of the conference was to showcase the work engineers were doing in the domain of computer-aided engineering and to encourage more math-based analysis within the company. At the plenary session, Vice-President of Global Engineering Randy Johnson professed his belief that CAE work would...

  9. 6 Interpreting Relationships between the Social and the Material
    (pp. 177-234)

    Researchers interested in understanding the organizational consequences of implementing new information technology have suggested that stasis or change in social structure can be traced to the ways users interpret the functionality of a new artifact (Boudreau and Robey 2005; Constantinides and Barrett 2006). Generally, studies that follow such a social constructivist framework contend that technological artifacts can simultaneously hold multiple meanings for diverse groups (Mackay et al. 2000; Prasad 1993). It is in clarifying those meanings—developing interpretations about what the technology is and how it should be used—that individuals construct the eventual effects the technology will have on...

  10. 7 Appropriating Material Features to Change Work
    (pp. 235-264)

    In October of 2005, Andrew Guizek, an analyst in the Strut Group, was attempting to use CrashLab to set up a model for an IIHS side-impact test. As he waited for his model to load, he made an interesting and rather colorful comment:

    You know, I was talking to this guy I know who’s also an analyst here at Autoworks and he told me that CrashLab was a piece of shit. I was like “Whoa, okay, that’s weird to feel so strongly about software.” But he was just saying that when he tries to use it, he has to ask...

  11. 8 Organizing as a Process of Sociomaterial Imbrication
    (pp. 265-292)

    I began this book by suggesting that people who work with new technologies, whether they are developers, trainers, managers, or users, often come to a somewhat fatalistic understanding of technological change. Indeed, the results of numerous studies report that developers regularly adopt the view that the material features of a new technology “have to be” configured in a certain way, that managers who intend to implement new technologies in organizations often suggest that the work “cannot help but” change in certain ways as it is constrained by the demands of the new technical system, and that users who interact with...

  12. Glossary
    (pp. 293-302)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 303-312)
  14. References
    (pp. 313-330)
  15. Index
    (pp. 331-334)