Not everything is as it seems: digital technology affordance, pandemic control, and the mediating role of sociomaterial arrangements

Luca Mora*, Rama Kummitha, Giovanni Esposito

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)
43 Downloads (Pure)


An overly favorable narrative has developed around the role played by digital technologies in containing Covid-19, which oversimplifies the complexity of technology adoption. This narrative takes sociomaterial arrangements for granted and conceptualizes technology affordance - the problem-solving capability of a technology - as a standard built-in feature that automatically activates during technology deployment, leading to undiversified and predetermined collective benefits. This paper demonstrates that not everything is as it seems; implementing a technology is a necessary but insufficient condition for triggering its potential problem-solving capability. The potential affordance and effects of a technology are mediated by the sociomaterialb arrangements that users assemble to connect their goals to the materiality of technological artifacts and socio-organizational context in which technology deployment takes place. To substantiate this argument and illustrate the mediating role of sociomaterial arrangements, we build on sociomateriality and technology affordance theory, and we present the results of a systematic review of Covid-19 literature in which 2,187 documents are examined. The review combines text data mining, co-occurrence pattern recognition, and inductive coding, and it focuses on four digital technologies that public authorities have deployed as virus containment measures: infrared temperature-sensing devices; ICT-based surveillance and contact-tracing systems; bioinformatic tools and applications for laboratory testing; and electronic mass communications media. Reporting on our findings, we add nuances to the academic debate on sociomateriality, technology affordance, and the governance of technology in public health crises. In addition, we provide public authorities with practical recommendations on how to strengthen their approach to digital technology deployment for pandemic control.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101599
Number of pages16
JournalGovernment Information Quarterly
Issue number4
Early online date23 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021


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