Theoretical Foundations for the Study of Sociomateriality

Information and Organization, Vol. 23, No. 2, pp. 59-75, 2013

41 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2013 Last revised: 24 Feb 2015

See all articles by Paul M. Leonardi

Paul M. Leonardi

University of California, Santa Barbara

Date Written: February 5, 2013


This paper compares two alternative theoretical foundations upon which the study of sociomateriality can be built: Agential Realism and Critical Realism. It begins by providing a brief overview of the sociomaterial perspective on organizational practices and considers why this perspective holds great appeal at this point in time. I then engage with Mutch’s (2013) critique of the agential realist foundation upon which most current discussions of sociomateriality are constructed to highlight what practical problems are generated when authors attempt to map agential realism’s philosophical discussion onto empirical phenomena. Next, I attempt to make explicit what Mutch leaves implicit in his paper: how building studies of sociomateriality on the theoretical foundation offered by critical realism can, potentially, overcome some of the practical problems created by a footing on agential realism. Finally, I push Mutch’s arguments one step further to compare what practical consequences arise when researchers attempt to construct studies of sociomateriality on either of these two theoretical foundations. I suggest that there are important implications for what one can study, how one can study it, and how scholars can contribute to theory on technology and organizing based on the theoretical foundation they choose to build upon.

Keywords: sociomateriality, critical realism, agential realism, materiality, practice, structuration, agency

Suggested Citation

Leonardi, Paul M., Theoretical Foundations for the Study of Sociomateriality (February 5, 2013). Information and Organization, Vol. 23, No. 2, pp. 59-75, 2013, Available at SSRN:

Paul M. Leonardi (Contact Author)

University of California, Santa Barbara ( email )

Phelps Hall
Santa Barbara, CA 93106
United States


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