Making Materials Matter—A Contribution to a Sociomaterial Perspective on Work Environment

  • Johan Simonsen Abildgaard Department of Psychology, University of Copenhagen
  • Niels Christian Mossfeldt Nickelsen Aarhus University
Keywords: Health, working environment & wellbeing, Identity, meaning & culture, Organization & management


This paper aims to discuss the implications of adopting an STS (science and technology studies)- based conceptualization of the psychosocial work environment. We problematize how work environment research presently divides elements of working conditions into separate physical and psychosocial dimensions. Based on actor network theory, a currently dominant perspective in the field of STS, we discuss the concept of sociomaterial work environment. An ANT perspective on work environment is relevant and timely, we argue, first and foremost because more entities are embraced in the analyses. We argue that the ANT perspective leads to a more nuanced understanding of the work environment where it is not a set of predefined categories that is the focus of interest, but rather the work environment as multiple locally performed aspects of agency, translation, and collectively constructed reality. This perspective on work environment, we argue, addresses pivotal issues raised in the work environment debate during the last ten years, for instance of how the work environment as a concept saliently belongs to a social democratic Scandinavian agenda in which the singular employee in a work environment context is predominantly seen as a victim. This trope, which was peaking in the 1970s, is increasingly becoming obsolete in a changing economy with still more flexible jobs. The contribution of this paper is to provide a presentation and a discussion of the potentials and pitfalls provided by a shift toward a sociomaterial work environment perspective, as well as an empirical exemplification of a sociomaterial approach to work environment assessment.

Author Biographies

Johan Simonsen Abildgaard, Department of Psychology, University of Copenhagen

Ph.D. fellow. email:

Niels Christian Mossfeldt Nickelsen, Aarhus University

Associate professor, Department of Education

How to Cite
Abildgaard, J., & Nickelsen, N. C. (2013). Making Materials Matter—A Contribution to a Sociomaterial Perspective on Work Environment. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, 3(4), 62-83.