Conducting Research in Information Systems: An Epistemological Journey

Conducting Research in Information Systems: An Epistemological Journey

Panagiotis Kanellis (Athens University of Economics and Business, Greece) and Thanos Papadopoulos (University of Warwick, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-040-0.ch001
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Abstract

This chapter offers a journey through the spectrum of epistemological and ontological perspectives in IS (IS), offering the necessary background to the researcher who has to explore diligently the research methods toolkit available and then make a choice. It does not attempt to solve any problems in existing paradigms or present any new ones, but systematically examines and clarifies the underlying set of ontological and epistemological assumptions that underpin every research activity. After a brief discussion on ontology and epistemology, the IS field and its underlying paradigms are discussed and what follow is an analysis of positivism, interpretivism, and a presentation of selected interpretive approaches. Hence, this chapter serves as a guide to be followed by researchers who would like to clarify and evaluate their views regarding epistemological and ontological assumptions, initiating a philosophical enquiry of their own. Consequently, it contributes in aiding the researcher in building a solid background upon which valid and rigorous research in the IS field should be anchored.
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Introduction

Any research activity seeks valid knowledge. This validity stems from community acceptance, that is, an agreement on a set of values which have produced knowledge claims that have withstood the test of time. This set of values is referred to as a “research paradigm.” Paradigms do mutate, evolve, or get discarded completely. However, this does not happen overnight due to the already existing cumulative tradition, which sets a pace in their evolution (Kuhn, 1970).

In the IS field, research paradigms and research, although already established through the last 10 years (e.g., Benbasat & Weber, 1996; Klein & Myers, 1999; Wade & Hulland, 2004), are still being under scrutiny and dispute, continuing to be haunted by feelings of inadequacy, and even leading many IS researchers to the lament that the IS field lacks a theoretic core, and thereby to the so-called “crisis” (Benbasat & Weber, 1996; Benbasat & Zmud, 2003; Ciborra, 1998a; Markus & Lee, 1999; Stowell & Mingers, 1997). Numerous research methodologies and approaches for analysing, summarizing, and presenting sets of empirical data and conclusions have been proposed within these paradigms (Becker & Niehaves, 2007; Chen & Hirschheim, 2004; Orlikowski & Baroudi, 1991). However established these may be, the lack of systematic analysis regarding their epistemological assumptions is apparent (e.g., Becker& Niehaves, 2007; Fitzgerald, Hirschheim, Mumford, & Wood-Harper, 1985; Mingers, 2001a), leading the researcher to question, at least, their applicability in the context of his own research purpose and context.

Should we, then, as seekers of valid knowledge and parts of fast changing organizational realities embrace teleology and strive to seek for “written-in-stone” cause-effect relationships and universal truths that underpin positivism’s deterministic notions? Or should we not, instead, be looking for epistemological frameworks (or applied epistemologies) which in a given context through the acquisition and systematisation of knowledge, induce awareness to those very changing realities and enable us to make connected statements that are valid and might act as stimulants for corrective action?

The purpose of this chapter is to offer a sound epistemological base to the research methods toolset available to IS researchers, addressing the largest possible spectrum of epistemological issues relevant to the field. This is important for any research endeavour, whether it is placed within a social or applied science domain; even so in the case of IS due to the multidisciplinary nature of the field. The plethora of methodological choices and tools that the new researcher will have to choose from may at times result to confusion and make an otherwise interesting and challenging task, rather daunting and dull. In this vein, this chapter does not attempt to solve any “problems” in existing research paradigms, or to offer a “new” paradigm simply because there are not any “old” ones; rather, it takes the reader to an epistemological journey, systematically examining and clarifying the underlying set of ontological and epistemological assumptions which underpin every IS research paradigm. It touches areas and unearths these paradigms, by critiquing their already existing assumptions. Moreover, it supports a move away from the conventional positivist notions, which seem to dominate the IS field. It does so by considering the ever-changing nature of IS and holding the assumption that as a successful business is constantly adapting to change, so should its IS.

Complete Chapter List

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Table of Contents
Foreword
Richard Baskerville
Preface
Aileen Cater-Steel, Latif Al-Hakim
Acknowledgment
Chapter 1
Panagiotis Kanellis, Thanos Papadopoulos
This chapter offers a journey through the spectrum of epistemological and ontological perspectives in IS (IS), offering the necessary background to... Sample PDF
Conducting Research in Information Systems: An Epistemological Journey
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Chapter 2
Francis Chia Cua, Tony C. Garrett
This chapter introduces ontological and epistemological elements in information systems research. It argues that ontology, epistemology, and... Sample PDF
Understanding Ontology and Epistemology in Information Systems Research
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Chapter 3
John Loonam, Joe McDonagh
Enterprise systems (ES) promise to integrate all information flowing across the organisation. They claim to lay redundant many of the integration... Sample PDF
A Grounded Theory Study of Enterprise Systems Implementation: Lessons Learned from the Irish Health Services
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Chapter 4
Khalid Al-Mabrouk
This chapter reviews some of the existing Information Technology Transfer (ITT) literature and suggests that it has fallen victim to the well-known... Sample PDF
A Critical Theory Approach to Information Technology Transfer to the Developing World and a Critique of Maintained Assumptions in the Literature
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Chapter 5
João Porto de Albuquerque, Edouard J. Simon, Jan-Hendrik Wahoff, Arno Rolf
Research in the Information Systems (IS) field has been characterised by the use of a variety of methods and theoretical underpinnings. This fact... Sample PDF
The Challenge of Transdisciplinarity in Information Systems Research: Towards an Integrative Platform
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Chapter 6
Paul D. Witman
This chapter provides a set of guidelines to assist information systems researchers in creating, negotiating, and reviewing nondisclosure... Sample PDF
A Guide to Non-Disclosure Agreements for Researchers Using Public and Private Sector Sources
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Chapter 7
Slinger Jansen
Even though information systems is a maturing research area, information systems case study reports generally lack extensive method descriptions... Sample PDF
Applied Multi-Case Research in a Mixed-Method Research Project: Customer Configuration Updating Improvement
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Chapter 8
Erja Mustonen-Ollila, Jukka Heikkonen
This chapter gives important methodological, theoretical, and practical guidelines to the information system (IS) researchers to carry out a... Sample PDF
Historical Research in Information System Field: From Data Collection to Theory Creation
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Chapter 9
Paivi Ovaska
Large-scale systems development is a complex activity involving number of dependencies that people working together face. Only a few studies... Sample PDF
A Multi-Methodological Approach to Study Systems Development in a Software Organization
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Chapter 10
Judith Symonds
Usability Evaluation Methods (UEM) are plentiful in the literature. However, there appears to be a new interest in usability testing from the... Sample PDF
Usability Evaluation Meets Design: The Case of bisco Office™
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Chapter 11
Ivan Ka-Wai Lai, Joseph M. Mula
Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) has been employed to increase the effectiveness of organizational requirement analysis in Information Systems (IS)... Sample PDF
An Analysis-Form of Soft Systems Methodology for Information Systems Maintenance
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Chapter 12
Raul Valverde, Mark Toleman, Aileen Cater-Steel
Recently, many organisations have become aware of the limitations of their legacy systems to adapt to new technical requirements. Trends towards... Sample PDF
Design Science: A Case Study in Information Systems Re-Engineering
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Chapter 13
Shaligram Pokharel
Information and communication technology (ICT) refer to a family of technologies that facilitate information capturing, storing, processing... Sample PDF
Analyzing the Use of Information Systems in Logistics Industry
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Chapter 14
William Yeoh
Engineering asset management organisations (EAMOs) are increasingly motivated to implement business intelligence (BI) systems in response to... Sample PDF
Empirical Investigation of Critical Success Factors for Implementing Business Intelligence Systems in Multiple Engineering Asset Management Organisations
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Chapter 15
Ping Li, Joseph M. Mula
A review of the literature showed that there appears to be very little research undertaken on Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) adoption by small to... Sample PDF
Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) Adoption: A Study of SMEs in Singapore
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Chapter 16
Hatem F. Halaoui
Using geographical information systems (GIS) has been of great interest lately. A lot of GIS applications are being introduced to regular and... Sample PDF
Towards Google Earth: A History of Earth Geography
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Chapter 17
Sergio Di Martino, Filomena Ferrucci, Carmine Gravino
Web technologies are being even more adopted for the development of public and private applications, due to the many intrinsic advantages. Due to... Sample PDF
Empirical Studies for Web Effort Estimation
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Chapter 18
Mobile Marketing  (pages 328-341)
Kazuhiro Takeyasu
Recently, cellular phones capable of accessing the Internet are prevailing rapidly in Japan. First, their functions and features are examined... Sample PDF
Mobile Marketing
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Chapter 19
Ross A. Malaga
Online auctions are an increasingly popular avenue for completing electronic transactions. Many online auction sites use some type of reputation... Sample PDF
The Retaliatory Feedback Problem: Evidence from eBay and a Proposed Solution
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About the Contributors