Digital Materiality? How Artifacts Without Matter, Matter

Leonardi, Paul M
First Monday

It sounds rather odd to say that digital artifacts -- like software -- have material properties because people generally think of materials or materiality as physical substances such as wood, steel, and stone. Yet scholars increasingly talk about the "materiality" of digital artifacts. What do they mean? In this paper, I explore two definitions of the adjective "material" -- practical instantiation and significance -- in addition to its normal connotation as matter. I argue that treating materiality as the practical instantiation of theoretical ideas (like policies that allow women to vote help make material the idea that sexes are equal) or as what is significant in the explanation of a given context (like material evidence in a courtroom trial) provides a more useful framework for understanding how digital artifacts affect the process of organizing. I contend that moving away from linking materiality to notions of physical substance or matter may help scholars of technology integrate their work more centrally with studies of discourse, routine, institutions and other phenomena that lie at the core of organization theory, specifically, and social theory more broadly.