Inscribing Individuals into a Formalized System: The ``Labour'' Performed by Affective Spaces

Publication Type:

IFIP Paper


Beyond Interpretivism? New Encounters with Technology and Organization, Springer International Publishing, Cham, p.108–124 (2016)




A substantial amount of ongoing work in organizations can be characterized as processes of formalization in which unique circumstances are rendered legible to organizational frameworks and inscribed into institutionalized ways of knowing and doing. Embedded in these processes is the need to manage, distance, and condition the affective and physical experience of the players involved. Using twelve months of ethnographic data gathered in the Family Law unit of the courts in a large county of California, we explore how formalization happens. We find that a dynamic combination of actants (technologies of formalization) engender affective spaces that serve as passage points in the process of formalization. These affective spaces condition the bodies and emotions of customers in a manner that generally mitigates unstable intensity and renders the customer ready to focus on the ``facts'' of the case. We suggest that by attending to the multiple actants in an environment we are able to interrogate both the origin and effects of ``affect'' as well as better understand how key passage points work in the service of formalization processes. In so doing we expand the conversation about the challenges of public service delivery and put forth the beginning of a theory of how affective spaces serve organizational and institutional goals.