Orlikowski & Iacono (2001) Research Commentary: Desperately Seeking the "IT" in IT Research

Abstract

Research Commentary: Desperately Seeking the "IT" in IT Research - A Call to Theorizing the IT Artifact

The field of information systems is premised on the centrality of information technology in everyday socio-economic life. Yet, drawing on a review of the full set of articles published in Information Systems Research (ISR) over the past ten years, we argue that the field has not deeply engaged its core subject matter - the information technology (IT) artifact. Instead, we find that IS researchers tend to give central theoretical significance to the context (within which some usually unspecified technology is seen to operate), the discrete processing capabilities of the artifact (as separable from its context or use), or the dependent variable (that which is posited to be affected or changed as technology is developed, implemented, and used). The IT artifact itself tends to disappear from view, be taken for granted, or is presumed to be unproblematic once it is built and installed. After discussing the implications of our findings, we propose a research direction for the IS field that begins to take technology as seriously as its effects, context, and capabilities. In particular, we propose that IS researchers begin to theorize specifically about IT artifacts, and then incorporate these theories explicitly into their studies. We believe that such a research direction is critical if IS research is to make a significant contribution to the understanding of a world increasingly suffused with ubiquitous, interdependent, and emergent information technologies.

Citation Wanda J. Orlikowski, C. Suzanne Iacono (2001). Research Commentary: Desperately Seeking the “IT” in IT Research - A Call to Theorizing the IT Artifact. Information Systems Research, vol. 12 no. 2, pp. 121–134. URL

BibTex entry for this article:

BibTex entry for this article:

@article{orlikowski2001research,
author = {Orlikowski, Wanda J. and Iacono, C. Suzanne},
issn = {10477047},
journal = {Information Systems Research},
number = {2},
pages = {121--134},
title = {{Research Commentary: Desperately Seeking the "IT" in IT Research - A Call to Theorizing the IT Artifact}},
url = {http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=intitle:Research+commentary:+Desperately+seeking+"IT"+in+IT+research+-+A+call+to+theo...#0},
volume = {12},
year = {2001}
}

Key ideas

We believe that the field of information systems (IS), which is premised on the centrality of information technology in everyday life, has not deeply engaged its core subject matter—the information technology (IT) artifact. (p. 121)

Our commentary has been motivated by a belief that the tendency to take IT artifacts for granted in IS studies has limited our ability as researchers to understand many of their critical implications—both intended and unintended—for individuals, groups, organizations, and society. We believe that to understand these implications, we must theorize about the meanings, capabilities, and uses of IT artifacts, their multiple, emergent, and dynamic properties, as well as the recursive transformations occurring in the various social worlds in which they are embedded. (p. 133)

We believe that the lack of theories about IT artifacts, the ways in which they emerge and evolve over time, and how they become interdependent with socio-economic contexts and practices, are key unresolved issues for our field and ones that will become even more problematic in these dynamic and innovative times. (p. 133)

Notes

Conceptualizations of the IT Artifact

1. Tool View of Technology

  • Technology as Labor Substitution Tool
  • Technology as Productivity Tool
  • Technology as Information Processing Tool
  • Technology as Social Relations Tool

2. Proxy View of Technology

  • Technology as Perception
  • Technology as Diffusion
  • Technology as Capital

3. Ensemble View of Technology

  • Technology as Development Project
  • Technology as Production Network
  • Technology as Embedded System
  • Technology as Structure

4. Computational View of Technology

  • Technology as Algorithm
  • Technology as Model

5. Nominal View of Technology: Technology as Absent

  • Our label for this category is intended to indicate that the articles in this group invoke technology “in name only, but not in fact”

Implications of the Conceptualizations of the IT Artifact

Research Directions: Reconceptualizing the IT Artifact

In the majority of articles over the past decade (1990-2000), IT artifacts are either absent, black-boxed, abstracted from social life, or reduced to surrogate measures. (p. 130)

We believe that this lack of attention to the core subject matter of our field represents both a unique opportunity and an important challenge for us to engage more seriously and more explicitly with the material and cultural presence of the information technology artifacts that constitute the “IT” in our IT research. (p. 130)

Tables and figures

Keywords:

INF6001W, IT Research, IT Theory, Information Systems Research, Information Technology, Technological Artifacts, Technology Change

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