Chapter 6: The GlobTel - MCI Relationship - The Dialectics of Space and Place


Chapter 6: The GlobTel “MCI Relationship ”The Dialectics of Space and Place

6.1 The significance of space and place

Many contemporary writers have emphasized the fundamental role of the space “place distinction in contemporary life and globalization. For example, Giddens (1990) writes that in traditional societies , space and place largely coincided since social interactions occurred under conditions of ˜presence . In contemporary society, with increasing interactions between ˜absent others, space is separated from place, and activities are coordinated without necessary reference to the particularities of place. The experience of the ˜here and ˜now is tied to and contingent on actors and actions at a distance. Such discussions have helped to refocus the political role on the ˜local and to emphasize the tensions that arise in the interplay between the local and the global.

Space and place serve as powerful metaphors to understand the global and the local, respectively, and the tensions that arise when social practices play out simultaneously in the global and the local. Schultze and Boland (2000) describe place in terms of its association with the sense of boundedness, localness and particularity, as contrasted to space and its sense of universal, generalizable and the abstract. The distinction between place and space can be conceptualized with respect to the meanings that people ascribe to locations “ physical or imagined. Spaces serve as containers or receptacles for places whose meanings are shaped by what one does in them. A place is a space to which meaning has been ascribed, and is psychologically meaningful as places help to ground identifications through the sharing of common symbols and experiences. In contrast, spaces represent physical areas with little associated meaning or intentionality.

A fundamental strategy that underlies globalization, and which serves as the guiding assumption of GSAs, is the notion that software development work can be broken up into modules, distributed to different centres around the world and coordinated through the use of ICTs to assemble the various pieces into the finished product. These different centres represent spaces, and serve as arenas for ˜becoming , where one centre is not treated as different from the other, except on the economic criteria of costs and the availability of resources. This approach is in contrast to the situated perspective that work needs to be context-dependent and occurs in places, as arenas for ˜being , where the local particularities are celebrated rather than suppressed. McDonald s outlets serve as a useful metaphor to understand this difference between space and place, since they are typically seen as arenas, similar to spaces where universalized and homogenized activities take place. These outlets are standardized to the detail of their physical appearance and food served . It is difficult to distinguish one outlet from another, even though they are located in different cities or countries (Leidner 1991). However, different people have varying sense of places and spaces. For the American tourist travelling in Rome a McDonald s outlet may represent a ˜place bringing back a bit of home; the same outlet to the Italians can represent an invasion of their place and eating culture.

GSW represents work arrangements that involve building software at a distance, outside the boundaries of organizations and countries, under the assumption that coordination is possible through the use of ICTs. The ˜when of these activities can be connected to the ˜where not through the mediation of place but by using technology. Castells (1996) writes that in contemporary capitalism , while organizations are located in places, and their components are place-dependent, their logic tends to be placeless and fundamentally based on the space of flows that characterize information networks. As networks in which firms operate become increasingly complex, they assume an increasing independence from the influences of the context of the locations they operate in. Fundamental to GSAs is thus the notion of geography, both physical and human, and how work plays out in them. However, notions of space and place when applied to GSA settings need to be extended from the traditional meanings ascribed to them by sociologists and human geographers to take into account the ˜electronic shared spaces (for example, through videoconference and email) in which a large proportion of GSW is carried out. Of interest then is how work practices that characterize GSW are structured across physical and electronic boundaries and how actors create and make use of distinctive conceptualizations of space, and the tensions that arise as a result.

The different physical and electronic domains take on space- or place-like characteristics depending on how individuals relate (or do not relate) to them and the practices that occur in these domains. They remain as spaces until individuals develop particular relations and identifications with them that transform them into places. There is an ongoing tension arising from this space “place interplay, such as when developers work in ˜spaces on projects that assume a ˜place kind of understanding. As individuals and organizations operate over space and place, there are varying dynamics that exert pressures simultaneously towards globalization and centralization on the one hand, and towards localization and regionalization on the other. This dynamic is confusing and conflicting, and creates both transition and displacement. Managers in GSAs constantly need to live and work with this disjuncture, in this ˜in-between position , where they have to engage simultaneously with the global and the local.

Given the fundamental role of geography in GSAs “ physical, human and electronic “ the focus of this case is to analyse the relationships between GSW and different spatial forms including the human physical and electronic boundaries that are not physically defined but are articulated as movements in networks of social relations and under- standings. This relationship between the social and geographic is redefined at different stages of development of the relationship. We analyse these changing forms in three stages of initiation , growth and stabilization of the GlobTel “MCI relationship.