The Sociotechnical Nature of Mobile Computing Work: Evidence from a Study of Policing in the United State

Steve Sawyer, Andrea Tapia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


In this article we discuss the sociotechnical nature of mobile computing as used by three policing agencies within the United States. Mobile devices, access, and service was provided via a third-generation wireless network to a focal application, Pennsylvania's Justice NETwork (JNET), a secure Web-based portal connecting authorized users to a set of 23 federated criminal justice and law enforcement databases via a query-based interface. In this study we conceptualize mobility and policing as a sociotechnical ensemble that builds on the social-shaping of technology perspective and the tradition of sociotechnical theorizing, focusing on the co-design of work practices and technologies to support work. Drawing from the social informatics tradition, we turn a critical, empirical, and contextual lens on the practices of mobility and work. Our analysis of the data leads us to observing that the social and the technical are still considered separately in the context of mobile work. This simple view of social and technical as related, but distinct, often leads to problems with collecting and interpreting evidence of ICT-based systems' design and use. We further note that this over-simplification of sociotechnical action is likely to continue unless more viable analytic approaches are developed and the assumptions of the current techno-determinist approaches are challenged more explicitly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Technology and Human Interaction (IJTHI)
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • actor-network theory
  • business process reengineering
  • change management
  • organizational politics
  • social shaping of technology
  • sociotechinical design
  • sociotechnical spaces

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Human-Computer Interaction


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