Navigation: This page '' ---> External Thinking ---> Main Page. HELP. Admin. Contact.

The Duality of Technology


In 1992, Wanda Orlikowski wrote a classic paper on The Duality of Technology, in which she adds to the circular structuration relationship between technology and organisation, the interpretive flexibility of technology.

She illustrates the need for the structuration relationship by reference both to the influence assumptions have on design, and to the unintended repercussions that technology has, not only on operations but also, on assumptions held by the community, on what is 'accepted', on what is given priority, and on commitment to the technology.

She illustrates the need for the interpretive flexibility of technology by reference to technology having unexpected repercussions, being used in unexpected ways, and being sabotaged or avoided. (The interpretive flexibility of technology is especially a features of ICT, information and communication technology, because of the programmable flexibility that computers offer.)

To account for these she proposed a modified structuration cycle with four arrows of influence rather than the two that Giddens suggested:


Orlikowski, however, does not sufficiently distinguish between structurational influence and repercussions of activity, and her model does not fully account for her examples. Unexpected and unintended repercussions of ICT use are not adequately located in her model, and the difference between unexpected impact on operations and on the more nebulous assumptions is not explored. With three types of entity in the model (human agents, institutional properties and technology) six or more influence arrows might be expected, but she omits the influence of human agents on institutional properties, and of institutional properties on technology - though her 3rd and 4th arrows seem to point to the combination of human and technology, maybe they should be separated.

A Dooyeweerdian Affirmation, Critique and Enrichment of Orlikowski's Duality of Technology

Dooyeweerdian philosophy provides a basis for understanding the root of the problems with Orlikowski's idea, for addressing those problems and enriching the idea, while at the same time affirming most of what Orlikowski tried to do. They are presented for scholars to make use of in the following table, in which each of the above portions is given with affirmation, Dooyeweerdian critique and enrichment. The Dooyeweerdian critique is either an explanation of the above critiques or new ones.

Links are included to the relevant portions of Dooyeweerd's philosophy.

Dooyeweerdian Affirmation, Critique and Enrichment of Orlikowski's Duality of Technology
Orlikowski's idea Dooyeweerd Affirms Dooyeweerd Critiques Dooyeweerd Enriches
Structuration cycle We function in many aspects, some of them governing our activity as individuals, others governing our social and societal activity. In our societal functioning (in the juridical, ethical and pistic aspects, we reconstitute structures of society that are legal, attitudinal and commitments. See the page on Giddens for more. See the page on Giddens for more. There are other aspects that need to be taken into account including the aesthetic aspect of harmonizing and the economic aspect of frugality.
An emphasis on assumptions Assumptions (about what is normal, accepted, real, meaningful, etc.) are our functioning in the pistic aspect. She just assumes assumptions, without providing an account of them. This may be directed to other aspects, e.g. social assumptions, assumptions about what is appropriate, etc.
Interpretive flexibility of technology Technological artefacts are seen as objects in human subject-functioning: prior objects. (Dooyeweerd's idea of subject-object is radically different from the usual Cartesian one.) Those prior objects were brought into being by inscription of meaning by developers' subject-functioning. Users' subject-functioning inscribes meaning too, but it might be different meaning. Orlikowski illustrates and describes the flexibility, but provides no philosophical basis for it. Her illustrations are limited. She lumps together intentionally different use, unintended repercussions and unexpected repercussions. Dooyeweerd provides a philosophical basis for it; see Affirmation.

  • Intentionally different use is accounted for by Dooyeweerd's emphasis on meaningfulness; that of users might differ from that of developrs.

  • Unintended repercussions come from the developers' inscription of meaningfulness not being complete.

  • Unexpected repercussions refer to the users' meaningfulness not being complete.

Orlikowski's triple of human agency, structures and technology Human agency is multi-aspectual functioning in all aspects. Technology is an object in this functioning. Structures are an Umwelt constituted in correlative enkapsis. Dooyeweerd worked out each of these ideas in depth.
Human agents design, develop, appropriate and modify technology. Design, develop, modify refer to the deliberate shaping of the artefact (formative aspect), whether by developers or users. Appropriation refers to the taking of the artefact or technological system to oneself; this is partly of the economic aspect. Does not sufficiently distinguish between design/ development/ modification and appropriation; between development / shaping and use. 'Developer' and 'user' are not two distinct beings but two different roles, qualified by different aspects (formative and economic). There are also other aspects of appropriation, such as the pistic aspect of trust.
Technology facilitates and constrains human action
(via Giddens' three modalities).
As an object within human subject-functioning, the meaningfulness inscribed into the technology by its developers and other shapers enters the human activity as enabling and constraint or steering. See also page on Giddens. Facilitation and constraint lumped together rather too much, and there is a difference between constraint and steering. Dooyeweerd's aspects provide a basis for analysing this.
Institutional properties of an organisation influence human interaction with technology as a whole (intentions, professional norms, state of the art, design standards, resources). Multi-aspectual Umwelt. State of art is formative Umwelt, standards is social Umwelt, resources is economic Umwelt, professional norms is juridical Umwelt, intentions is probably pistic Umwelt. There are probably other Umwelten, such as aesthetic of style and fun, ethical, of attitude, and lingual, of signage and language use (Giddens' structures of signification).
Interaction with technology influences the institutional properties by reinforcing or transforming structure (in all its three dimensions). Interaction with technology involves all aspects, including the three societal ones: juridical, ethical and pistic. Our operation with these, while we use the object that is the technological artefact, changes the structures as well as our behavriour. She combines users and developers; see above. Here I have focused on the human action of users; the action of developers is below.
(Missing arrow) Seen as wider human functioning in the three structural aspects Influence of human agents on institutional properties, without technology Brings into the picture the extra-technological activity. Dooyeweerd sees this, not as different from technological activity, but as both a subject-functioning in all aspects but perhaps with different objects.
(Missing arrow) This refers to the functioning of the developers rather than users, e.g. in their pistic aspect of belief or assumption about what is important and unimportant as they design the technology. Influence of institutional properties on technology Brings into the picture the influence of society on developers.

This page is part of a collection of pages that links to various thinkers, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

Copyright (c) at all dates below Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.

Number of visitors to these pages: Counter. Written on the Amiga and Protext.

Created: 8 May 2015. Last updated: