Alan Zhang

I am a doctoral candidate in the Work and Organization Studies group at MIT Sloan School of Management. My research seeks to advance organizational and sociological theories of work and technology in the digital era.

I study the organization and coordination of work in productions that are changing unpredictably. I focus in particular on productions where such supply-side instabilities are deliberately accommodated rather than mitigated, as a way of generating distinctive value. In the digital era, a broad range of contributors can concurrently shape and alter the production of goods, engendering disruptions that not only destabilize the production process but can also provide strategic advantage if appropriately harnessed (such as to achieve authenticity, innovation, or scale). My research agenda explores the enactment of these work dynamics in and across organizations and how they can render unstable technological or environmental conditions strategically valuable.

Using primarily qualitative methodologies (e.g., ethnographic observations, interviews, archival analyses), I immerse myself in field settings that span organizational boundaries in order to understand the cross-cutting interactions and contributions shaping production. And to reveal the complex dynamics of collective work in contemporary productions, I develop models of organizing that are grounded in the everyday production activities of multiple kinds of actors (e.g., humans, AI, machines, fauna, flora, microbes) over time. 

To date, I have investigated a diverse set of production sites where instability serves as a generative source of value. In particular, I’ve explored the production of cultural goods (e.g., fine wine), digital services (e.g., agricultural analytics), and infrastructural provisions (e.g., nationwide 911 emergency system). It is in pursuit of strategically open-ended goals such as authenticity, innovation, and scale respectively, that each of these sites made instabilities productive, though in consequentially different ways.