2020 Pushing the Boundary Award
The winner of the 2020 SAP Pushing the Boundary Award is Rene Wiedner with his paper “Sustenance Through Liberation: Vinyl Record Manufacturing After Disruption and Before the Hype”
Congratulations on winning the SAP Pushing the Boundary Award! Can you briefly elaborate on what your paper is about?
Thank you. The paper is essentially about understanding how a disrupted practice – i.e. a practice that suddenly loses meaning – can be kept alive. I follow developments in vinyl record manufacturing after the successful commercialization of the digital audio compact disc to identify relevant mechanisms in this respect. One of the key findings is that a resurgence of meaning is not necessary for successful practice preservation. A disrupted practice can survive as long as some actors find a practice meaningful and are able to perform it. The question then becomes: How can interested actors develop the necessary skills and gain access to relevant material? In the paper I argue that this, to some extent, is dependent on earning respect from professionals who control specialized knowledge and material. Hence, studies of practice preservation should look beyond methods of reviving meaning and consumer demand to also examine processes of earning respect.
What motivated the paper and how did it change over time?
I honestly can’t remember exactly why I decided to start this project. I remember hearing some interesting anecdotes about aspects of vinyl record manufacturing and becoming curious. A friend of mine is a recording engineer but he has very limited direct interaction with vinyl record manufacturing. The more I looked into it, the more interesting tales I came across, and the more fascinated I became about the industry. I decided to start this as a kind of hobby project and just see where it would take me.
Both the empirical focus and the theoretical framing changed substantially over time. For instance, I had no idea that a relatively large community of analog disc cutting hobbyists existed. This broadened the scope of my research considerably.
Regarding theoretical changes – the framing has been evolving over several years. It can be quite difficult to tell a ‘big’ story (i.e. practice preservation) and situate it squarely within a particular body of literature. It can speak to so many different audiences (e.g. technology studies; institutional change; strategy, to name but a few).
Would you like to share any challenges that you faced during the research process? If so, how did you overcome them?
Persuading people to participate in an academic study is not always easy. Unfortunately, I have not been able to capture the voices of certain individuals who I believe have played a key role in preserving vinyl record manufacturing. I have had to rely on secondary sources in these cases, which can be patchy.
Another issue in this particular case is that vinyl records have become fashionable. When I started my study in 2016 the term ‘vinyl revival’ had just become popular. The easy answer for people trying to understand how vinyl record manufacturing has been kept alive is simply that consumer demand has risen again. But this completely overlooks the fact that it kept going for about two decades when there was very little consumer demand. So, I made a conscious decision to stop looking at recent developments and focus instead on what was happening when vinyl record manufacturing was not really financially profitable.
Your paper studies the global vinyl record manufacturing industry. Can you tell us more about how to collect data on and analyze a global industry?
I have been quite fortunate: The global industry is relatively small, or at least it was until a few years ago. This made it easy for me to identify most of the relevant actors across the world. Also, I have been working on this project (sporadically) for over four years now, which has allowed me to repeatedly collect and analyse data, thereby going deeper than might be possible otherwise.
Again, congratulations for winning the award! If you were able to do this study again, what if anything would you do differently?
Thanks again. I remember an embarrassing situation during my first site visit – I interviewed a dubplate cutter in a small village in the Austrian Alps and didn’t even know what a dubplate was. The interviewee asked me if I had been studying the amateur vinyl record manufacturing forum and I had no idea what he was talking about. This was in the first minute of the interview. He said something like “Oh my God, I don’t believe it. What kind of research have you been doing!?” This was followed by an awkward silence and my attempts to talk my way out of it. Thankfully, I was able to stay for a few hours and collect some really valuable data.
I learned an important lesson: make sure you are extremely well prepared for every interview. You want to make sure you give the impression that you are a very serious researcher who has done his homework. Now, of course, things are very different for me. When I do interviews with people in the industry I can talk about specific details relating to the vinyl manufacturing process and also refer to certain individuals. For instance, if someone says “I met this guy in Switzerland who sold me this piece of equipment” I can then follow-up and ask “are you referring to Flo Kaufmann”? That allows me to demonstrate my knowledge and drill deeper into what interviewees are saying. I guess you could say it’s about gaining access to specialized knowledge by earning respect.
Finally, what advice do you have for those of the SAP community who aim to receive the award in the future?
Make sure you have something to say that you yourself are really excited about. And make sure you write it in a way that people outside of a small community can understand. With regard to SAP, I have been drawn to it because it encourages research that goes beyond mainstream understandings of strategy and management; and because practice-theoretical approaches resonate with me. I believe that the SAP community values unorthodox approaches, which can be quite liberating!