Skip to content
BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access October 5, 2021

Ambiguity, standards and contextual distance: archaeological heritage administrators and their information work

Isto Huvila EMAIL logo
From the journal Open Information Science


Archaeological heritage administrators hold a key position as managers of archaeological information production. This article reports findings of an interview study conducted in Sweden (N=10) that focuses on providing an in-depth description of archaeology heritage administrators’ work with a focus on their information work practices and factors that influence how it unfolds. The findings show that its critical success factors focus on the adequacy and availability of resources, personal experience and functioning collaborations with key stakeholders and colleagues, and balancing between following and interpreting formal guidelines, boundaries and standards of the work. Based on a reading of the findings inspired by Luhmann and White, it is suggested that the administrators’ ability to balance between standards and ambiguity and regulate their personal contextual distance to the projects they were working on helped them switch between acting as subject experts and relying on others to maintain a control over their information work-as-whole.


Åsa M. Larsson, & Löwenborg, D. (2020). The digital future of the past - research potential with increasingly FAIR archaeological data. In C. Hillerdal, & K. Ilves (Eds.) Re-imagining periphery: Archaeology and text in Northern Europe from iron age to viking and early modern periods, (pp. 61–70). Oxford: Oxbow.Search in Google Scholar

Andersson, C., Lagerlöf, A., & Skyllberg, E. (2010). Assessing and measuring: On quality in development-led archaeology (with comments and reply),. Current Swedish archaeology, 18, 11–28.10.37718/CSA.2010.01Search in Google Scholar

Barley, W. C., Leonardi, P. M., & Bailey, D. E. (2012). Engineering objects for collaboration: Strategies of ambiguity and clarity at knowledge boundaries. Human Communication Research, 38(3), 280–308.10.1111/j.1468-2958.2012.01430.xSearch in Google Scholar

Berggren, A., & Hodder, I. (2003). Social Practice, Method, and Some Problems of Field Archaeology. American Antiquity, 68(3), 421–434. in Google Scholar

Bernstein, B. B. (2000). Pedagogy, symbolic control, and identity : theory, research, critique. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Search in Google Scholar

Bonner, A., & Lloyd, A. (2011). What information counts at the moment of practice? information practices of renal nurses. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 67(6), 1213–1221.10.1111/j.1365-2648.2011.05613.xSearch in Google Scholar

Börjesson, L. (2015). Grey literature – grey sources? nuancing the view on professional documentation: The case of Swedish archaeology. Journal of Documentation, 71(6), 1158–1182.10.1108/JD-09-2014-0137Search in Google Scholar

Börjesson, L. (2016). Beyond information policy: conflicting documentation ideals in extra-academic knowledge making practices. Journal of Documentation, 72(4), 674–695.10.1108/JDOC-10-2015-0134Search in Google Scholar

Börjesson, L. (2016). Research outside academia? an analysis of resources in extra-academic report writing. Proceedings of the 2016 ASIS&T Annual Meeting, Copenhagen, (pp. 1–10).10.1002/pra2.2016.14505301036Search in Google Scholar

Börjesson, L., & Huvila, I. (2019). Contract archaeology. In L. Börjesson, & I. Huvila (Eds.) Research Outside the Academy: Professional Knowledge-Making in the Digital Age, (pp. 107–122). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Search in Google Scholar

Börjesson, L., Petersson, B., & Huvila, I. (2015). Information policy for (digital) information in archaeology: current state and suggestions for development. Internet Archaeology, 40.10.11141/ia.40.4Search in Google Scholar

Bouwman, M. J., Frishkoff, P. A., & Frishkoff, P. (1987). How do financial analysts make decisions? A process model of the investment screening decision. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 12(1), 1–29.10.1016/0361-3682(87)90013-4Search in Google Scholar

Brown, J. S., & Duguid, P. (2000). The Social Life of Information. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.Search in Google Scholar

Buchanan, S. A. (2016). A Provenance Research Study of Archaeological Curation. Ph.D. thesis, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin.Search in Google Scholar

Byström, K. (1999). Task Complexity, Information Types and Information Sources. Ph.D. thesis, University of Tampere, Information Studies, Tampere.Search in Google Scholar

Byström, K., Heinström, J., & Ruthven, I. (2018). Workplace information environment - challenges and opportunities for research. In K. Byström, J. Heinström, & I. Ruthven (Eds.) Information at Work: Information management in the workplace, (pp. 147–172). London: Facet.Search in Google Scholar

Carver, M. O. H. (2009). Archaeological investigation. London; New York: Routledge.Search in Google Scholar

Cool, C. (2001). The Concept of Situation in Information Science. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 35, 5–42.Search in Google Scholar

Cooper, M. A., Firth, A., Carman, J., & Wheatley, D. (Eds.) (1995). Managing archaeology. London; New York: Routledge.Search in Google Scholar

De Clercq, W., Bats, M., Bourgeois, J., Crombé, P., De Mulder, G., De Reu, J., Herremans, D., Laloo, P., Lombaert, L., Plets, G., et al. (2012). Development-led archaeology in Flanders: an overview of practices and results in the period 1990-2010. Development-led archaeology in North-west Europe: proceedings of a round table at the University of Leicester 19th-21st november 2009, (pp. 29–55).Search in Google Scholar

Demoule, J.-P. (2002). Rescue archaeology: The French way. Public Archaeology, 2(3), 170–177.10.1179/pua.2002.2.3.170Search in Google Scholar

Demoule, J.-P. (2012). Rescue Archaeology: A European View. Annual Review of Anthropology, 41, 611–626.10.1146/annurev-anthro-092611-145854Search in Google Scholar

Dent, J. (2012). Past tents: temporal themes and patterns of provincial archaeological goverance in British Columbia and Ontario. Master’s thesis, The University of Western Ontario, London, ON.Search in Google Scholar

Dent, J. (2017). Tailors-made: Heritage governance customization in late modern Canada. Archaeologies.10.1007/s11759-017-9314-xSearch in Google Scholar

Derderian, B. (2019). On the value and versatility of strategic ambiguity. Fieldsights. in Google Scholar

DuBois, A. (2003). Close reading: an introduction. In F. Lentricchia, & A. DuBois (Eds.) Close reading: a reader, (pp. 1–40). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Eisenberg, E. M. (1984). Ambiguity as strategy in organizational communication. Communication Monographs, 51(3), 227–242.10.1080/03637758409390197Search in Google Scholar

Ekbia, H. (2009). Information in action: A situated view. Proc. Am. Soc. Info. Sci. Tech., 46(1), 1–11.10.1002/meet.2009.1450460233Search in Google Scholar

Ellingsen, G. (2004). Tightrope walking: Standardisation meets local work-practice in a hospital. International Journal of IT Standards & Standardization Research, 2(1), 1–22.10.4018/jitsr.2004010101Search in Google Scholar

Ellingsen, G., Monteiro, E., & Munkvold, G. (2007). Standardization of work: Co-constructed practice. The Information Society, 23(5), 309–326.10.1080/01972240701572723Search in Google Scholar

Enqvist, J. (2014). The New Heritage: A Missing Link between Finnish Archaeology and Contemporary Society? Fennoscandia Archaeologica, XXXI, 101–123.Search in Google Scholar

Everill, P. (2012). The Invisible Diggers : A Study of British Commercial Archaeology. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2 ed.Search in Google Scholar

Friberg, Z., & Huvila, I. (2019). Using object biographies to understand the curation crisis: lessons learned from the museum life of an archaeological collection. Museum Management and Curatorship, 34(4), 362–382.10.1080/09647775.2019.1612270Search in Google Scholar

Gerdes, A. (2008). The clash between standardisation and engagement. Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, 6(1), 46–59.10.1108/14779960810866792Search in Google Scholar

Gießmann, S., & Taha, N. (2017). “study the unstudied”: Zur medienwissenschaftlichen Aktualität von Susan Leigh Stars Denken. In S. Gießmann, & N. Taha (Eds.) Grenzobjekte und Medienforschung, (pp. 13–77). Bielefeld: Transcript.Search in Google Scholar

Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine.Search in Google Scholar

Green, W., & Doershuk, J. F. (1998). Cultural resource management and american archaeology. Journal of Archaeological Research, 6(2), 121–167.10.1007/BF02446162Search in Google Scholar

Haggrén, G. (2014). Haloo muinaisjäännösrekisteri: kylät mukaan! [hello sites and monuments record: include village sites!]. SKAS, (1), 2.Search in Google Scholar

Haraway, D. (1988). Situated knowledges: the science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective. Feminist Studies, 14(3), 575–599.10.2307/3178066Search in Google Scholar

Hardin, R. (2009). How do you know? : the economics of ordinary knowledges. Princeton: Princeton University Press.10.1515/9781400830664Search in Google Scholar

Heinström, J., Sormunen, E., Savolainen, R., & Ek, S. (2019). Developing an empirical measure of everyday information mastering. JASIST, 71(7), 729–741.Search in Google Scholar

Hirsjärvi, S., & Hurme, H. (2008). Tutkimushaastattelu: Teemahaastattelun teoria ja käytäntö. Helsinki: Gaudeamus.Search in Google Scholar

Hultin, L. (2019). On becoming a sociomaterial researcher: Exploring epistemological practices grounded in a relational, performative ontology. Information and Organization, 29(2), 91–104.10.1016/j.infoandorg.2019.04.004Search in Google Scholar

Huvila, I. (2006). The ecology of information work – A case study of bridging archaeological work and virtual reality based knowledge organisation. Åbo: Åbo Akademi University Press. Diss. Åbo Akademi University. in Google Scholar

Huvila, I. (2009). Ecological framework of information interactions and information infrastructures . Journal of Information Science, 35(6), 695–708.10.1177/0165551509336705Search in Google Scholar

Huvila, I. (2011). The politics of boundary objects: hegemonic interventions and the making of a document. JASIST, 62(12), 2528–2539.10.1002/asi.21639Search in Google Scholar

Huvila, I. (2013a). How a Museum Knows? Structures, Work Roles, and Infrastructures of Information Work. JASIST, 64(7), 1375–1387.10.1002/asi.22852Search in Google Scholar

Huvila, I. (2013b). Meta-games in information work. Information Research, 18(3), paperC01. in Google Scholar

Huvila, I. (2014). Archaeologists and their information sources. In I. Huvila (Ed.) Perspectives to Archaeological Information in the Digital Society, (pp. 25–54). Uppsala: Department of ALM, Uppsala University.Search in Google Scholar

Huvila, I. (2016a). Awkwardness of becoming a boundary object: Mangle and materialities of reports, documentation data and the archaeological work. The Information Society, 32(4), 280–297.10.1080/01972243.2016.1177763Search in Google Scholar

Huvila, I. (2016b). ’If we just knew who should do it’, or the social organization of the archiving of archaeology in Sweden. Information Research, 21(2), Paper 713. in Google Scholar

Huvila, I. (2017). Land developers and archaeological information. Open Information Science, 1(1), 71–90.10.1515/opis-2017-0006Search in Google Scholar

Huvila, I. (2018). Putting to (information) work: A Stengersian perspective on how information technologies and people influence information practices. The Information Society, 34(4), 229–243.10.1080/01972243.2018.1463332Search in Google Scholar

Huvila, I. (2019a). Learning to work between information infrastructures. Information Research, 24(2), paper 819. in Google Scholar

Huvila, I. (2019b). Rethinking context in information research: bounded versus centred sets. Information Research, 24(4), paper colis1912. in Google Scholar

Huvila, I., & Ahmad, F. (2018). Holistic information behavior and the perceived success of work in organizations. Library & Information Science Research, 40(1), 18–29.10.1016/j.lisr.2018.03.004Search in Google Scholar

Huvila, I., & Börjesson, L. (2019). Epilogue. In L. Börjesson, & I. Huvila (Eds.) Research Outside The Academy: Professional Knowledge-Making in the Digital Age, (pp. 171–182). Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.Search in Google Scholar

Kallinikos, J. (2006). The consequences of information : institutional implications of technological change. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.10.4337/9781847204301Search in Google Scholar

Kallinikos, J., & Hasselbladh, H. (2009). Work, control and computation: Rethinking the legacy of neo-institutionalism. In R. E. Meyer, K. Sahlin, M. J. Ventresca, & P. Walgenbach (Eds.) Institutions and Ideology, (pp. 257–282). Bingley: Emerald.Search in Google Scholar

Kaplan, B. (1995). Fitting system design to work practice:using observation in evaluating a clinical imaging system. In AMCIS Proceedings, (p. 90). in Google Scholar

Khazraee, E. (2013). Information Recording in Archaeological Practice: A Socio-Technical Perspective. In iConference 2013, February 12-15, 2013 Fort Worth, TX.Search in Google Scholar

Khazraee, E., & Gasson, S. (2015). Epistemic objects and embeddedness: Knowledge construction and narratives in research networks of practice. The Information Society, 31(2), 139–159.10.1080/01972243.2015.998104Search in Google Scholar

Klijn, E.-H., & Koppenjan, J. (2012). Governance network theory: past, present and future. Policy & Politics, 40(4), 587–606.10.1332/030557312X655431Search in Google Scholar

La Salle, M., & Hutchings, R. (2012). Commercial archaeology in British Columbia. The Midden, 44(2), 8–16.Search in Google Scholar

Larsson, Å. M.,, Smith, M., Sohlenius, R., & Klafver, T. (2017). Digitising the archaeological process at the Swedish National Heritage Board: producing, managing and sharing archaeological information. Internet Archaeology, (43).10.11141/ia.43.6Search in Google Scholar

Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic Inquiry. Beverly Hills: Sage.Search in Google Scholar

Lönn, M. (2006). Uppdragsarkeologi och forskning. Göteborg: Göteborgs universitet.Search in Google Scholar

Löwenborg, D., Jonsson, M., Larsson, Å., & Nordinge, J. (2021). A turn towards the digital. an overview of swedish heritage information management today. Internet Archaeology, 58.Search in Google Scholar

Luhmann, N. (1982). The world society as a social system. International Journal of General Systems, 8(3), 131–138.10.1080/03081078208547442Search in Google Scholar

Luhmann, N. (2005). Social systems. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Luoto, K. (2015). Vastine Muinaistutkijan (3/2015) pääkirjoitukseen “Firmat, kilpailu ja arkeologia” [reply to the editorial of muinaistutkija (3/2015) “Firms, competition and archaeology”]. Muinaistutkija, (4), 54–55.Search in Google Scholar

Maturana, H. R., & Varela, F. J. (1980). Autopoiesis and cognition : the realization of the living. Dordrecht: Reidel.10.1007/978-94-009-8947-4Search in Google Scholar

Meintjes, L., & Lemon, T. J. (2017). Dust of the Zulu: Ngoma aesthetics after Apartheid.10.1215/9780822373636Search in Google Scholar

Miwa, M. (2003). Situatedness in users’ evaluation of information and information services. The New Review of Information Behaviour Research, 4, 207 – 224.10.1080/14716310310001631534Search in Google Scholar

Olsson, M. (2016). Making sense of the past: The embodied information practices of field archaeologists. Journal of Information Science, 42(3), 410–419.10.1177/0165551515621839Search in Google Scholar

Polesie, P. (2013). The view of freedom and standardisation among managers in swedish construction contractor projects. International Journal of Project Management, 31(2), 299–306.10.1016/j.ijproman.2012.09.010Search in Google Scholar

RAÄ (2015). Uppdragsarkeologi: Det uppdragsarkeologiska systemet. Stockholm.Search in Google Scholar

Rhee, M., Park, J. S., & Yoo, T. (2015). The contradictory roles of ambiguity for innovation in an industry: how beneficial are standardisation and classification? Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 27(9), 1114–1128.10.1080/09537325.2015.1060312Search in Google Scholar

Rocabado, P. (2015). Neoliberal multiculturalism and contract archeology in northern Chile. International Journal of Historical Archaeology, 19(4), 775–790–.10.1007/s10761-015-0311-8Search in Google Scholar

Schibbye, K., Frisk, M., Sander, B., & Westerlind, A. (2007). Kulturmiljön som resurs: Hur kulturmiljöaspekterna på ett ändamålsenligt sätt kan behandlas i miljöbedömningar och miljökonsekvensbeskrivningar. Tech. rep., RAÄ, Stockholm.Search in Google Scholar

Sciulli, D. (2005). Continental sociology of professions today: Conceptual contributions. Current Sociology, 53(6), 915–942.10.1177/0011392105057155Search in Google Scholar

Sharrock, W., & Button, G. (2011). Engineering investigations: What is made visible in making work visible? In M. H. Szymanski, & J. Whalen (Eds.) Making Work Visible: Ethnographically Grounded Case Studies of Work Practice, (pp. 34–50). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Smith, L. (2004). Archaeological theory and the politics of cultural heritage. London and NewYork: Routledge.10.4324/9780203307991Search in Google Scholar

Söderström, U. (2018). Contract Archaeology and Sustainable Development: Between Policy and Practice. phdthesis, Linnaeus University, Kalmar.Search in Google Scholar

Star, S. L. (1988). The structure of ill-structured solutions: Heterogeneous problem-solving, boundary objects and distributed artificial intelligence. In Proceedings of the 8th AAAI Workshop on Distributed Artificial Intelligence, Technical Report, Department of Computer Science, University of Southern California. Los Angeles, CA.Search in Google Scholar

Star, S. L. (1999). The Ethnography of Infrastructure. American Behavioral Scientist, 43(3), 377–391. in Google Scholar

Stefánsdóttir, A. (2019). An introduction to development-led archaeology in europe: Meeting the needs of archaeologists, developers and the public. Internet Archaeology, 51.10.11141/ia.51.9Search in Google Scholar

Stjernberg, F. (2010). Comments on assessing and measuring: On quality in development-led archaeology. Current Swedish Archaeology, 18(1), 47–51.10.37718/CSA.2010.05Search in Google Scholar

Stoker, G. (1998). Governance as theory: five propositions. International Social Science Journal, 50(155), 17–28.10.1111/1468-2451.00106Search in Google Scholar

Stone-Johnson, C. (2014). Parallel professionalism in an era of standardisation. Teachers and Teaching, 20(1), 74–91.10.1080/13540602.2013.848514Search in Google Scholar

Suchman, L. (1987). Plans and Situated Actions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Sundin, O., & Carlsson, H. (2016). Outsourcing trust to the information infrastructure in schools: How search engines order knowledge in education practices. Journal of Documentation, 72(6), 990–1007.10.1108/JD-12-2015-0148Search in Google Scholar

Thomas, J. (2006). The Great Dark Book: Archaeology, Experience, and Interpretation. In J. Bintliff (Ed.) A Companion to Archaeology, (pp. 21–36). Malden and Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.Search in Google Scholar

Timmermans, S., & Berg, M. (1997). Standardization in action: achieving local universality through medical protocols. Social Studies of Science, 27, 273–305.10.1177/030631297027002003Search in Google Scholar

Urban, R. J. (2014). Library Influence on Museum Information Work. Library Trends, 62(3), 596–612.10.1353/lib.2014.0005Search in Google Scholar

Ward, V., House, A., & Hamer, S. (2009). Knowledge brokering: the missing link in the evidence to action chain? Evidence & Policy, 5(3), 267–279.10.1332/174426409X463811Search in Google Scholar

Watson, S. (2021). Foreword. archaeology and public benefit. Internet Archaeology.Search in Google Scholar

Wears, R. L. (2015). Standardisation and its discontents. Cognition, Technology & Work, 17(1), 89–94. in Google Scholar

White, H. C. (2008). Identity and control : how social formations emerge. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Winch, C. (2010). Dimensions of expertise: a conceptual exploration of vocational knowledge. London: Bloomsbury.Search in Google Scholar

Young, M. F. D., & Muller, J. (2014). From the sociology of professions to the sociology of professional knowledge. In M. F. D. Young, & J. Muller (Eds.) Knowledge, expertise and the professions, (pp. 3–17). London: Routledge.Search in Google Scholar

Zorzin, N. (2010). The political economy of a commercial archaeology : a Quebec case-study. Ph.D. thesis, University of Southampton, Southampton. in Google Scholar

Received: 2021-03-18
Accepted: 2021-08-03
Published Online: 2021-10-05

© 2021 Isto Huvila, published by De Gruyter

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Downloaded on 29.11.2022 from
Scroll Up Arrow