To read this content please select one of the options below:

Authoring social reality with documents: From authorship of documents and documentary boundary objects to practical authorship

Isto Huvila (Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 23 August 2018

Issue publication date: 7 January 2019




In the context of organisation studies, Shotter and colleagues have used the notion of practical authorship of social situations and identities to explain the work of managers and leaders. This notion and contemporary theories of authorship in literary scholarship can be linked to the authoring of documents in the context of document studies to explain the impact and use of documents as instruments of management and communication. The paper aims to discuss these issues.


The conceptual discussion is supported by an empirical interview study of the information work of N=16 archaeologists.


First, the making of documents and other artefacts, their use as instruments (e.g. boundary objects (BOs)) of management, and the practical authorship of social situations, collective and individual identities form a continuum of authorship. Second, that because practical authorship seems to bear a closer affinity to the liabilities/responsibilities and privileges of attached to documents rather than to a mere attribution of their makership or ownership, practical authorship literature might benefit of an increased focus on them.

Research limitations/implications

This paper shows how practical authorship can be used as a framework to link making and use of documents to how they change social reality. Further, it shows how the notion of practical authorship can benefit of being complemented with insights from the literature on documentary and literary authorship, specifically that authorship is not only a question of making but also, even more so, of social attribution of responsibilities and privileges.


This paper shows how the concepts of documentary and practical authorship can be used to complement each other in elaborating our understanding of the making of artefacts (documentary) BOs and the social landscape.



An earlier version of the paper has been presented at the OLKC 2015 Conference at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan. The research for this paper has been conducted as a joint study between Information and Knowledge Management and Information Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences and Economics, Åbo Akademi University and the Archaeological Information the Digital Society research project (ARKDIS) financed by the Swedish Research Council (VR), Grant No. 340-2012-5751. The author would like to thank anonymous reviewers for excellent comments that have significantly improved the paper.


Huvila, I. (2019), "Authoring social reality with documents: From authorship of documents and documentary boundary objects to practical authorship", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 75 No. 1, pp. 44-61.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles