Information Systems Research as Design: Identity, Process, and Narrative

Publication Type:

IFIP Paper


Information Systems Research, p.53 - 68 (2004)



Information systems research has moved beyond the antagonistic dualisms that dominated its discourse over the last 20 years. Our community is now largely inclusive of diverse research traditions, and without a strong dogma. But it is also experiencing an identity crisis. Scholars are asking what the information systems field is or should be, and where it is going or should go. In this paper, we argue that such questions, although understandable as sense-making devices, are fundamentally misdirected because they ask about the things that should be part of our identity rather than the process through which we should construct it. As an alternative to this search for identity through the identification of things with which to align, we propose that a better way forward is to appreciate that researchers are designers. Viewing researchers as designers allows our identity to emerge from the unique and critical processes whereby we both reflect and shape the socio-technical world, as well as establish our position in an intellectual field. Viewing the researcher as designer leads to a questioning of the structurational processes in which researchers are, at the same time, both representing the socio-technical world (it is our medium) and shaping it through our knowledge generation (it is our outcome). Our ongoing choice of theories, methods, artifacts, and subjects becomes a fateful, existential choice of our identity, for which we should assume responsibility in the reflexive monitoring of our research conduct. The narratives we accept or resist in making our studies of information systems constitute our identity, as well as that of our field and of our subjects. The way forward is to take responsibility for maintaining a dynamic balance in the existential choices through which we bring ourselves as researchers, our research subjects, and the socio-technical world into being.

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