Problematising speed in and around organisations: struggles over the temporal commons in the British Artificial Intelligence field

Christopher H.F. Baird

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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In recent decades, speed has emerged as a significant social scientific concern, including within the field of management and organisation studies (MOS). However, the literature on speed in MOS has developed according to several problematic assumptions and agendas, namely: it assumes speed is predominantly a good thing, should be evaluated in relation to economic value, prioritises managerial perceptions of speed, privileges the antecedents to speed, and often treats speed as a general ontological premise from which to theorise. By contrast, this thesis proposes a set of alternative assumptions and agendas regarding speed research: taking full stock of potential speed pathologies, adopting a stakeholder view to evaluate speed, considering the speed experiences of marginalised voices, studying how speed is actively resisted, and questioning the perceived omnipresence of speed. To explore these critical re-conceptualisations of speed, this thesis undertakes an in-depth empirical investigation of the British Artificial Intelligence (AI) field. Drawing on Bourdieusian sociology, the British AI field is conceptualised as a structured social space where various actors with different and often conflicting agendas and power resources (i.e. capital) struggle over the field’s ‘temporal commons,’ that is, the set of values, beliefs, practices, and structures regarding time and speed which are considered ‘appropriate.’ Through an analysis of 33 interviews, micro-ethnographic observation at 20 AI-events, historical-archival documents, and significant secondary data, the major lines of conflict and division in the field are theorised under the temporal parameters of ‘techno-scientific time’ versus ‘deliberative-democratic time’ and ‘machine-instantaneous time’ versus ‘human-reflective time.’ Under each parameter, a range of speed advantages and speed pathologies are explored and theorised. The power relations underpinning these struggles are also uncovered and historicised. This thesis contributes to the theory on time and speed in organisation studies as well as to more general debates regarding the sociology of speed. It builds and extends the use of Bourdieu’s conceptual framework in MOS. Finally, it is of value to the formation of policy and practice in the British AI field that is both empirically and theoretically-grounded.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Calvard, Thomas, Supervisor
  • O'Toole, Michelle, Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • speed
  • temporality
  • artificial intelligence
  • organisation studies
  • management
  • Bourdieu


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