The Loss of Chaos : Figurational Togetherness with Digital Distance Work
Abstract: During the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations and employees suddenly became increasingly reliant on digital technologies to safely continue work. In this master’s thesis, I tried to understand how such rapid change could be understood when compared to wider, more gradual processes of intensifying media reliance. This was a case study of a department within a Swedish municipality administration. Through employee interviews and a thematic analysis, and by drawing from mediatization theory and the figurational approach, I aimed to explore how a sudden increase in digital distance work had affected experiences of figurational togetherness, and how this related to wider processes of mediatization. More specifically, I assessed how practices of communication were perceived to have changed with digital distance work, and how the latter had affected aspects of power and the self. In sum, there had been a formalization and individualization of ‘figurational togetherness’ – the social experience of being with others in one or more figurations. Communication was generally perceived to have become more formal, structured, and efficient, but also more detached than before. At the same time, digital distance work appeared to have facilitated self-empowerment and individuality. Such processes had a partial and sometimes contradictory relation to wider processes of mediatization. The findings of this study were conceptualized as a ‘loss of chaos’. Given a newly gained perspective on physical copresence, I argued that one could start to make out the attributes of its materiality. Physical space involved chance, messiness, and contingency, but also inspiration, information richness and subtle yet complex social dynamics. Such aspects of chaos did not always translate well into the digital realm, something that was attributed to the characteristics and capacities that current digital collaboration tools did and did not have. Ultimately, the argument was made that this calls for further inquiries into the materiality of digital office technologies and that of physical copresence itself.
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