Wednesday, 11 July 2012

People, practice, and technology: Restoring Giddens' broader philosophy to the study of information systems

an article by Mark Thompson (Judge Business School, Cambridge, UK) published in Information and Organization Volume 22 Issue 3 (July 2012)


This paper argues that practice-based management and IS literature has tended to portray a voluntaristic account of human agency that downplays the contribution to emergent social outcomes of more deeply rooted psychological dimensions of the human condition.

Within the IS research community, this tendency is exemplified in work using Giddens’ structuration theory, which, whilst acknowledging the importance of human interpretive properties, has foregrounded cognitive aspects to interpretation at the expense of important non-cognitive ingredients such as affect and biographical identity. These non-cognitive ingredients are less amenable for study using the structurational model, but receive comprehensive treatment elsewhere in Gidden’ work.

Accordingly, it is argued that a useful direction for future theory development would be to seek a more balanced account of humans’ co-constitutive relationship with technology in practice. This could be achieved by supplementing the structurational perspective, with its primary focus on emergent social structure, with a more explicit engagement with Giddens’ broader concern with emergent biographical structure. An initial integrative framework is offered as a first step in this direction.


► The non-cognitive/affective is routinely downplayed in IS research.
► This is increasingly at odds with emerging interest in process/practice theory.
► Use of Giddens’ work in IS shows a similar downplaying of the non-cognitive.
► This is a missed opportunity to draw on Giddens’ broader ideas concerning the subjective.
► The paper rehabilitates structuration within the broader canvas of Giddens’ ideas.

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