Intensional Networks

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search

= individually-oriented and managed networks are replacing teams and the reliance on instititutional frameworks


traditional institutional resources are being replaced by resources that workers mine from their own networks. Social networks are key sources of labor and information in a rapidly transforming economy characterized by less institutional stability and fewer reliable corporate resources. The personal social network is fast becoming the only sensible alternative to the traditional "org chart" for many everyday transactions in today's economy.

- Bonnie Nardi et al [1]



"Intensional networks are "egocentric" networks that arise from individuals and their communication and workplace activity. Our focus was to get beyond the notion of the "team" that has been the underpinning of much management and technological research, to see the wider networks in which people operate.

We will argue that it is increasingly common for workers to replace the organizational backdrop and predetermined roles of old style corporate working with their own personal assemblages of people who come together to collaborate for short or long periods. These assemblages are recruited to meet the needs of the current particular work project. Once joint work is completed, the network has some persistence; the shared experience of the joint work serves to establish relationships that may form the basis for future joint work. This style of work has long been common in the building trades and in Hollywood productions. What is new is that it is rapidly permeating corporate life.

We chose the term intensional to reflect the effort and deliberateness with which people construct and manage personal networks. The spelling of the term is intended to suggest a kind of tension and stress in the network. We found that workers experience stresses such as remembering who is in the network, knowing what people in the network are currently doing and where they are located, making careful choices from among many media to communicate effectively with people, and being mindful to "keep in touch" with contacts who may prove useful in the near or distant future. At the same time, "intensional" also suggests a "tensile strength" in network activity; we found our informants endlessly resourceful and energetic in their everyday collaborative activities within their networks.

In contrast to the personal network view, the bulk of the business and social science literature on workplace organization reflects a "team" perspective." (



"According to these accounts, technology and social change are working together to create wondrous new organizational configurations such as learning communities, quality circles, virtual teams, communities of practice. In contrast, our research on patterns of work in the information economy reveals a countervailing trend - the rise of personal social networks as a key social structure enabling work. Rather than being nurtured by institutionalized group structures, we found that workers are increasingly thrown back on their own individual resources. Instead of being able to rely on various forms of teams and communities, access to labor and information comes through workers' own social networks - structures which they must carefully propagate and cultivate themselves.

Two related trends led to these developments: the rapid pace of organizational change in businesses, and enhanced access to sophisticated communication media, including the Internet. The many manifestations of organizational change - downsizing, outsourcing, merging, splitting, acquiring, partnering, and the constant redrawing of internal organizational charts - lead to a situation in which it is less and less easy for workers to reliably turn to established role-based structures in their companies when they need labor or information. These very structures either no longer exist, or are themselves in flux. The trend toward reduced access to institutional resources is intensified by the increasing importance of independent contractors, consultants, and small business owners in today's economy." (

More Information

Research essay: It's not what you know, it's who you know. First Monday.

To be contrasted with Communities of Practice and other approaches focusing on teams and communities.