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date: 06 May 2021


Abstract and Keywords

This part of the book introduces the content of Part II of the text. Part II considers a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives currently used in the MIS field. Each theory or methodology examined here can be applied to a range of MIS-related practices, especially if the wider implications of the discipline are considered, to include societal and environmental factors.

Keywords: theoretical perspectives, methodological perspectives, MIS-related practices, societal factors, environmental factors

Part II includes nine chapters which consider a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives currently used in the MIS field. The intellectual antecedents of these theories are not found in the MIS field, but in the more traditional disciplines of, for example, sociology and philosophy. However, their relevance and applicability to MIS is without question. The various contributions can be treated as ‘stand-alone’ although each theory or methodology can be applied to a range of MIS-related practices, particularly if we consider the wider implications of the discipline to include societal and environmental factors.

This section begins with a chapter by Mingers (Chapter 3) raises important philosophical and practical issues in undertaking research in the pursuit of knowledge, including some of the questions and debates that are of interest within the philosophy of IS. Five themes are identified: being systemic, being critical and realist, being pluralist in approach, having a concern for truth and recognizing a variety of forms of knowledge. This chapter demonstrates the importance of philosophical and practical issues in research and the production of knowledge, and presents five propositions (p. 64) which are the hallmarks for producing rigorous and relevant research in a complex world. They include: adopting a systemic and holistic approach to the world; using critical realism as an underpinning philosophical perspective; employing multiple research methods to reflect the complexity of the real world; recognizing a variety of forms of knowledge; and accepting concomitantly the importance of truth or warrantability. It is interesting to contrast this chapter with our next chapter (4) by Checkland, who presents his seminal work on systems thinking and soft systems methodology, which has greatly influenced the development of the IS field. The chapter examines ‘basic systems’ ideas and what it means to do ‘systems thinking’. A distinction is made between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ systems thinking, both of which are relevant in the creation of an information system in a real-life situation. The development of the approach is discussed to show how the ‘hard/soft’ distinction in the use of systems ideas is linked to the Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) and how these ideas are relevant to the IS field. Delineating between hard/soft approaches to IS is noteworthy given that the European tradition in IS draws heavily from the philosophical writings of various scholars, as we shall see below.

The next seven chapters review leading theoretical perspectives including structuration theory, institutional theory, Foucault’s ideas of techne and technology, critical theory, hermeneutics, phenomenology, and post-structuralism. We begin with a chapter by Jones that deals with structuration theory, which emerged as a significant development in European sociology in the late 1970s. The theory has its origins in Berger and Luckman’s (1967) concept of the mutual constitution of society and individuals. Other strands of structurational analysis are found in the work of Bourdieu (1977), Bhaskar (1979), and Giddens (1991). In focusing on the contribution of Giddens, Jones points out that structuration is a general theory of social organization, and not one specific to IS, which has led to many studies in IS pursuing ideas and debates that are ‘at odds’ with the work of Giddens. As information systems are seen as social systems, which exist in social and organizational contexts that influence their development and use, and are also implicated in sustaining and changing these contexts, the theory potentially offers useful insights for the IS field. Jones shows that, in recent years, structuration has become an important theoretical lens for many scholars in the organizational and IS fields, with contributions from such leading IS scholars as Orlikowski and Robey (1991), DeSanctis and Poole (1994), and Orlikowski and Yates (1994).

In Chapter 6, Currie considers institutional theory as an important contribution to the IS field. Noting that institutional theory has its roots in core disciplines of sociology, economics, anthropology, and political science, its varied and complex concepts provide an interesting and relevant backdrop for understanding IS phenomena. This chapter provides an overview of institutional theory from the seminal papers of the 1970s to the more recent contributions which consider institutional change and deinstitutionalization. In the IS field, the ‘organization’ is often used as the primary unit of analysis, where researchers operationalize institutional concepts as a lens to interpret and analyse data. However, institutional theory also shows how macro-units (p. 65) of analysis, i.e. regulatory, legal, and policy frameworks, are also important in influencing and determining organizational and behavioural change. Equally, while institutional theory is traditionally concerned with stability and persistence, information technologies are often associated with rapid, and sometimes disruptive, societal and organizational changes. The more recent work in institutional theory which considers institutional entrepreneurship and change is therefore relevant for the IS field, particularly in understanding why many large-scale IT projects fail to become embedded in highly institutionalized contexts, for example, in the healthcare sector. Willcocks and Lioliou, in Chapter 7, continue our focus on theoretical perspectives by looking at the contribution of Michel Foucault’s work, which they see as ‘unjustly neglected’ in the IS field. In particular, they assess Foucault’s views of techne and technology and argue that IS could learn from a deeper Foucauldian genealogy. This chapter assumes a degree of familiarity with Foucault’s main work, but not with its application to information and communications technology.

Stahl (Chapter 8) continues the theme of applying theory to IS research by focusing on the contribution of ‘critical theory’ or ‘critical research’. This chapter presents an overview of the usage of critical theory in contemporary IS research and practice. The author follows Klein (2009) in using the term ‘critical social information systems research’ (CSISR) and reviews the growing body of work on CSISR to offer an in-depth understanding of the meaning and history of this tradition. CSISR is characterized by the intention to change social reality and promote emancipation, which is a departure from other research approaches and traditions. The CSISR discourse is influenced by the philosophical writings of Jürgen Habermas, particularly in the light of the ethical dimension of his work. See also Chapter 23. The chapter discusses problems of the approach and finishes with a critical reflection CSISR in general and this present narrative in particular.

In Chapter 9, Introna discusses the complex ideas surrounding hermeneutics which emerged as an interest in the IS field in the 1980s and 1990s through the work of Richard Boland. Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation theory, and includes the art of interpretation, as well as the theory and practice of interpretation. The author claims the theory involves the ‘rendering meaningful of a text (object or phenomenon), which has become obscured or “distanced” in some way, thereby making it no longer immediately obvious’. Applied to the IS field, it is noteworthy that IT which is a repository of large amounts of data and information may lead to a form of distancing. A distinction is made between IS research and computer science research, since the former is largely a social science, ‘in which researchers are always in some sense “distanced” from the social phenomena they are studying’. He continues with ideas in the philosophy of social science in Chapter 10, with an exploration of phenomenology, both in terms of its philosophical underpinnings and as a methodology. Phenomenology is widely used in management studies, notably in organizational analysis, and the core disciplines of anthropology, sociology, history, psychology, among many others. This chapter draws on literature on the phenomenological movement and its relevance to the IS field.

(p. 66) Our final chapter in Part II is by Mitev and Howcroft, who address an omission in IS research concerning the debate in social science on postmodernism and post-structuralism. They outline the fundamental arguments of this debate and draw attention to the relevant discussions and disputes. In so doing, they introduce the basic ideas surrounding Actor Network Theory (ANT) and show its origins in post-structuralist debates in the field of science and technology studies (STS).

The diverse theories and methodologies in Part II are intended to provide the reader with a flavour of past, present, and future ideas and debates which are relevant to the IS field. Implicit in these contributions is the notion that IS is not simply about the ‘technical imperative’ but incorporates a rich tapestry of issues and concerns which are central to social science. These theories and methods are therefore an invitation to IS academics to broaden their repertoire of perspectives and approaches in undertaking IS research, not least to provide greater depth in our understanding and appreciation of how information systems are influenced by, and seek to influence, actions, behaviours, and outcomes. Complementary readings to Part II of this volume are Mingers and Willcocks (2004) and Mansell et al. (2007).


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Bourdieu, P. (1977). Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

Bhaskar, R. (1979). The Possibility of Naturalism. Brighton: Harvester.Find this resource:

DeSanctis, G., and Poole, M. S. (1994). ‘Capturing the Complexity in Advanced Technology Use: Adaptive Structuration Theory’, Organization Science, 5(2): 121–47.Find this resource:

Giddens, A. (1991). ‘Structuration Theory: Past, Present and Future’, in C. G. A Bryant and D. Jary (eds.), Giddens’ Theory of Structuration: A Critical Appreciation. London: Routledge, 201–21.Find this resource:

Klein, H. K. (2009). ‘Critical Social IS Research Today: A Reflection of Past Accomplishments and Current Challenges’, in C. Brooke (ed.), Critical Management Perspectives on Information Systems. Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann.Find this resource:

Mansell, R., Avgerou, C., Quah, D., and Silverstone, R. (2007). The Oxford Handbook of Information and Communication Technologies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

Mingers, J., and Willcocks, L. P. (2004). Social Theory and Philosophy for Information Systems. New York: Wiley.Find this resource:

Orlikowski, W. J., and Robey, D. (1991). ‘Information Technology and the Structuring of Organizations’, Information Systems Research, 2(2): 143–9.Find this resource:

—— and Yates, J. (1994). ‘Genre Repertoire: Examining the Structuring of Communicative Practices in Organizations’, Administrative Science Quarterly, 39: 541–74.Find this resource: