The Constitution of Boundaries

How the Embeddedness of Organizational Users Structures the Transfer of their Knowledge

Keywords: organizational users, innovation, boundaries, knowledge transfer, social context, materiality


Private and organizational users are widely treated as equal in the literature on the integration of users in innovation projects. Based on a practice-theoretical perspective, we argue in this paper that this equation is inconsistent and inadequate. While users are conceptualized as competent and embedded when it comes to the genesis of their user knowledge, both factors are ignored when their involvement in the innovation process is considered. Drawing on empirical findings on interorganizational knowledge transfer, we show that the social, formal, and material embeddedness of organizational users crucially structures their integration. By elaborating the role of different structural dimensions in detail, we highlight the distinctive features of organizational users. In doing so, we further develop a heuristic that enables a detailed and adequate analysis of their integration.

Author Biographies

Philip Roth, RWTH Aachen University

Postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Sociology at RWTH Aachen University since 2018. His work combines organizational, digitalization, network and innovation research. A particular focus of his work is the study of the emergence and development of social relations within and between organizations - especially in the context of innovation attempts. Previously, he earned his PhD at the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research.

Nadine Diefenbach, RWTH Aachen University

Research associate at the Institute of Sociology at RWTH Aachen University since 2020. Her research focuses on digitalization, datafication and technological assistance systems in organizations. In her PhD project, she is investigating how datafication is transforming small and medium-sized enterprises.