[We’re pleased to welcome author Alex Wright of The Open University, UK. Wright recently published an article in the Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “Embodied Organizational Routines: Explicating a Practice Understanding, which is currently free to read for a limited time.” Below, Wright reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]
The recent interest in exploring organizational routines has increased our knowledge and understanding considerably, informing and enhancing how we view organization and organizing. In existing studies, people are acknowledged as contributing to the unfolding of routines when they are described as accomplished by specific people, at specific times, in specific places. My motivation for writing this study was to construct a deeper understanding of what is meant by specific people. Present research, I considered, held the view that while people were important they were inter-changeable without any discernable consequential impact on how routines progress. This was problematic for two reasons. First, I felt it reduced the human actors involved in routines to some machine-like existence. People have been shown to take part in organizational routines, but their influence had been largely underexplored. Second, the claim made that a practice theory of routines has been established always seemed to me to be premature. Too many empirical studies to date have been conducted at a level too abstract from where practice unfolds for such a claim to be accepted. Therefore, the two concerns that provoked my research were focused on the related issues of people and practice.
One assumption that underpinned my work was that people are inherently unstable. That is, their bodies differ. Routines, therefore, are accomplished by people with bodies, embodied actors, and their very embodiment makes a difference in how routines unravel. Such a nuanced appreciation of routines is only possible if the level of analysis focuses on the human and nonhuman relational inter-acting that sustains them. It is here where a practice understanding of routines can be formed. A further assumption I worked within is that bodies communicate and through such communication do routines emerge. This means that it is not just talk that matters, but gesture, facial expression, movement and silences can also be essential for routines to evolve. The empirical examples from such diverse situations as a police interrogation encounter and an operating theatre I use help illustrate this. A focus on embodied people takes us closer to the promise of a practice theory of routines as it helps depict how: power is exercised through gesture and bodily movement; the spaces where routines unfold cohere with human bodies making a difference in how they are constituted and experienced; and, the routineness of routines is made manifest when mutual intelligibility is discerned in the silences that characterize how embodied actors inter-relate.
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