Jon Hindmarsh

Professor of Work and Interaction,
Kings College London

Coordination, Sociomateriality, and Robot-Assisted Surgery


It is routinely argued that proximity is a mechanism that supports coordination in organisations. For example, Okhuysen and Bechky (2009: 478-9) argue that “through co-presence, organization members can … get immediate evidence of the progress of the work.” In this paper, I want to explore an interesting case that challenges this seemingly straightforward assertion; indeed, the case has as many similarities with studies of mediated communication as it does with studies of co-present coordination. It encourages me to argue that a praxeological approach to workspace (following Lucy Suchman) is helpful in re-considering the concept of proximity in studies of coordination. Following repeated calls from Stephen Barley for organisational scholars to ‘bring work back in’ and research at the institutional ‘coalface,’ I aim to place the real-time organisation of work front and centre. The study is drawn from a multi-disciplinary project concerned with the implementation of the da Vinci robot into colorectal surgery and the paper reports on a video-based field study exploring work practice during robot-assisted operations. Using a series of video data extracts, I will focus on the ways in which members of interdisciplinary teams in operating theatres identify, manage and resolve problems that arise in the course of routine surgical procedures using this relatively new technology. I adopt analytic resources from ethnomethodology and conversation analysis to understand the opportunities and challenges for coordination in this rather intriguing setting.

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