Research event

Digital infrastructures for institutional change: Technological inscription and the challenge of prefiguration

A presentation by Moritz Kleinaltenkamp (Centre for Digital Governance). This event is part of the Digital Governance Research Colloquium hosted by the Centre for Digital Governance. 

Abstract: Actors working to bring about institutional change increasingly leverage digital technologies while doing so. Ample scholarship has examined how change-oriented actors use social media to organise and strategically disseminate their change vision. More recently, scholars’ and practitioners’ attention has turned to new phenomena such as Blockchain and open data platforms, where institutional change efforts and technology intersect in a different way. In these cases, change-oriented actors seek to kick-start large-scale change by inscribing their envisioned institutional logics directly into digital infrastructures serving a pivotal role in institutional arrangements. While organisation theorists have long recognised the validity of this approach, a systematic understanding of how inscription of digital institutional infrastructures proceeds at the organisational level – i.e., what organisational processes and challenges accompany inscription efforts – is currently lacking. In this conceptual paper, I synthesise literature from organisational and information systems research to develop a theory of “technological prefiguration” that illuminates this issue. The technological prefiguration concept highlights a crucial but hitherto disregarded organisational paradox that institutional change efforts proceeding via inscription of digital infrastructures have to overcome. I discuss how this concept can inform research and practice and illustrate my arguments with examples from the Blockchain space.

Moritz Kleinaltenkamp is a PhD researcher at the Hertie School. He holds a Master in Technology Policy from the University of Cambridge, a Master in Economics from Peking University, and a Bachelor in Political Science from Freie Universität Berlin. In his studies – which have been supported by the Hertie School, the Yenching Academy, and the Academy of Management – he has focused on the intersection of technology and society. In his PhD project, he draws on sociology and management literature to research phenomena of digital organising. Previously, he has gained practical experience working as a policy consultant to the European Commission, and as part of PwC‘s public sector advisory.