13 December 2022, 15 - 16.30 

Hybrid auction sales of fine art and antiques: The role of auctioneers as frontline workers in digital transformation through sociomaterial practices

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Sylvaine Tuncer

King’s Business School, King’s College

I present initial findings from an ongoing, multi-year study on auction sales of fine art and antiques. The research focuses on ‘hybrid’ sales, which became prevalent during the Covid-19 pandemic. Whilst auctions are conventionally held in copresence in a saleroom, hybrid sales bring together participants in the saleroom and remote participants through online platforms. Such hybrid ecologies present major challenges for the undertaking of auction sales—mainly because of participants’ asymmetrical access to each other and each other’s environment—and yet hybrid auctions proved highly successful. Initial observations showed that this remarkable achievement relies in part on how auction houses and auctioneers transposed and transformed the social and interactional organisation that underpins engagement in more traditional, collocated auctions. Drawing on video recordings of hybrid sales, direct observations of hybrid sales, and interviews with various stakeholders, I examine auctioneers’ sociomaterial practices, showing how they were challenged and transposed from collocated to hybrid ecologies. The study develops new theoretical insights into the interplay between digital transformation and sociomaterial practices. I argue that theories of digital transformation can gain from integrating micro phenomena such as interactional, coordination practices.