Talking objects: Towards a post-social research framework for exploring object narratives

2018-07-18T11:17:48Z (GMT) by Clare Humphries Aaron Smith
In this article, we examine how to give objects a voice in organizational narrative. We track our encounter with a 914 Xerox copier, a redundant technological object that was scripted into a desired historical narrative within a corporate exhibit. Despite the 914’s apparent mnemonic and institutional efficacy, we questioned whether it might constitute more than a narrative repository. Might material objects in organizations also participate in narrative production? In this article, we advocate a post-social approach to narrative methodology that recognizes objects—such as the 914—as non-human actors in organizational sense-making. After reviewing post-sociality’s central premises, we propose three domains through which an object narrative can be elicited: object materiality, object practices and object biography. First, we suggest that object materiality can highlight the significant, networks of forces, materials and people—and therefore episodes and actors— that engage with and through objects. Second, we argue that people and objects are enmeshed in sequenced, workplace activities, and therefore through object practice humans define what stories objects can tell while objects reciprocally influence the latitude of human performance. Third, we propose that object biography provides a strategy to map the connections and transitions that occur over the life-course of an object, which can, in turn, unravel a changing web of organizational relations. Our aim is to provide methodological guidance to narrative researchers seeking to augment their organizational analyses by scrutinizing human–object enmeshment.