Implicit Orders: Documentary Genres and Organizational Practice


  • Elisabeth Davenport



The paper explores the proposition that documentary genres implicitly order organizational activity; analysis oftheir role as tacit sorting devices can improve understanding of documentation and organizational practice. The author reviews recent work on communities of practice in organisations and discusses historical work on documentary genres and their role in capturing local or tacit knowledge. More recent work on documentary genres in the digital workplace is then addressed, and the place of the politics of classification in the construction of genres is discussed. The author analyzes case studies of new technology and changes in practice in a number of contexts, including current work on documentary genres in a small entreprise in the Scottish food and beverage sector. In this company, evolving documentary genres have allowed a recently automated sales team to adapt to a new order imposed by changes in external circumstanceS and the procurement of new technology. The paper concludes with a review of recent work on visualisation of social interactions, and its possible role in the rapid provision of templates for documentary genres in different domains. The author speculates that representations (by visualization or other means) of documentary genres in organizational settings may serve as 'thumbprints' of groups at work that may provide rapid insight into the nature of work in a given domain. Such insight may be important in distributed cognition, where ad hoc project teams work online and at a distance from each other in the 'temporary organizations' that characterize work in many domains.