High-technology in the time of corona: a critical institutional reading

Tammar B. Zilber*, Yehuda C. Goodman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations

Abstract

Drawing on institutional theory and using examples from Israel, we offer a critique of technology's deployment in responses to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). We distinguish between technologies-in-use (“small ‘t' technologies”), the bundle of artifacts and practices that bring them into being, and “Big ‘T' Technology,” the latter being technology as an institution – shared meanings, structures, and practices that govern thought and action. Using the conceptual tool kit of institutional theory, we make three interrelated arguments. First, the deployment of technologies-in-use in response to the pandemic is embedded in diverse and contradictory institutions, the institution of technology among them. These technologies participate in the very construction of crisis, which fosters the revert to known and established ways of being and doing. Thus, technologies-in-use are not necessarily the most efficient and rational but rather the most legitimate and readily available. Second, putting certain technologies into action has not been happening by itself. Instead, we have witnessed contestations among relevant agents – like politicians and experts – who engage in institutional work to serve their interests. Third, despite its global reach, technology is locally adapted and implemented in specific contexts. All in all, institutional theory helps us to explore further and critique the naïve belief, common in public discourse, in technology as a remedy of all things. Instead, it offers a more critical understanding of the cultural dynamics involved in putting technology to work in the coronavirus crisis. This critical lens carries implications for policymaking and implementation in times of crisis.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number100342
JournalInformation and Organization
Volume31
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd

Keywords

  • Coronavirus disease
  • Crisis
  • Institutional theory
  • Israel
  • Social construction
  • Technology

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