The Duality of Technology: Rethinking the concept of technology in organizations

Wanda J. Orlikowski


This paper develops a new theoretical model with which to examine the interaction between technology and organizations. Early research studies assumed technology to be an objective, external force that would have deterministic impacts on organizational properties such as structure. Later researchers focused on the human aspect of technology, seeing it as the outcome of strategic choice and social action. This paper suggests that either view is incomplete, and proposes a reconceptualization of technology that takes both perspectives into account. A theoretical model--the structurational model of technology--is built on the basis of this new conceptualization, and its workings explored through discussion of a field study of information technology. The paper suggests that the reformulation of the technology concept and the structurational model of technology allow a deeper and more dialectical understanding of the interaction between technology and organizations. This understanding provides insight into the limits and opportunities of human choice, technology development and use, and organizational design. Implications for future research of the new concept of technology and the structurational model of technology are discussed.


Organizations, Structuration Theory, Structurational Model of Technology, Technology


The author proposes the structurational model of technology as a “reconstruction” of the concept of technology. Chiefly, the author addresses the “duality of technology,” as human created and individual used yet also institutionalized in its usage in organizations. Dialectic issues in the reality of technology and the social construction of technology within organizations can also be seen in how technology is often viewed as a representative of an objective reality (i.e. a technology does _____) while at the same time human interaction with technology is viewed as a social construction (how technologies are appropriated within an organizational culture). Previously, the author notes, research in technology centered on either the objective approach or the social construction of technology. Though these frameworks were helpful in progressing technology as a concept, each is one-sided and, according to the author, only tells half the story. By allowing for both institutionalized and socially constructed views of technology in organizations, the structurational model is inclusive, dynamic and flexible. With the inclusivity of both objectivity and social construction within technology, the structurational model is applicable to study in technology at essentially all organization levels, ranging from the macro-level (ex. between organizations) to the micro-level (ex. An individual worker).

APA Citation

Orlikowski, W. J. (1992). The duality of technology: Rethinking the concept of technology in organizations. Organization science, 3(3), 398-427.

About the Study

Links to Article
Mode Technology-enhanced
Publication Type Journal Article
In Publication Organization Science
Type of Research Qualitative
Research Design Ethnography, Interviews
Intervention/Areas of Study Other
Level of Analysis Institutional-level
Specific Populations Examined
Peer-Reviewed Yes
Specific Institutional Characteristics of Interest Other
Specific Course or Program Characteristics
Outcome Variables of Interest Institutional effectiveness
Student Sample Size
Citing Articles,50&sciodt=0,50&hl=en