Representations, Institutions, and IS Design: Towards a Meth-Odos

Representations, Institutions, and IS Design: Towards a Meth-Odos

Gianluigi Viscusi (University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0303-5.ch008
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Abstract

In this chapter, the authors discuss some issues emerging from the phenomenological analyses carried out by Claudio Ciborra, in particular in the Labyrinths of Information. The chapter points out that concepts such as Kairos, Drift, Bricolage, unveil a specific odos for the information systems as a discipline. In their perspective, this odos covers a meth-odos towards new opportunities offered to design by answering the provocation coming from considering information systems as infrastructures (Ge-stell). Furthermore, the authors point out that these opportunities come from a deep understanding of the philosophical background of the work of Claudio Ciborra, namely from the idea of phenomenology of Martin Heidegger, whose position refuses the idea of a subject (no matter how pure or transcendental) as the original foundation of our relationships with reality.
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Introduction

In this chapter we discuss the issues emerging from the phenomenological analyses carried out by Claudio Ciborra, in particular in the Labyrinths of Information (Ciborra, 2002). Besides other contributions to the theoretical foundations of information systems as a discipline (Gregor, 2002; Jones, et al., 2008; Lyytinen, 1987), the work of Ciborra provides not only a deep analysis and understanding of the organizational issues involved in information systems design, but also an initial attempt to provide a philosophical foundation to the discipline. Furthermore, despite the clear argumentations raised by Ciborra against the adoption of methodologies and the claim for an approach to the management of information systems based on concepts such as Kairos, Drift, Bricolage, we point out that these latter concepts unveil a specific odos for the information systems as a discipline in the area of organization science (Ciborra, 2002). In our perspective, this odos covers a meth-odos for the new opportunities offered by answering the provocation coming from considering information systems as infrastructure (Ge-stell). These opportunities arise from a deep understanding of the philosophical background of Claudio Ciborra’s work, namely from Martin Heidegger idea of phenomenology, often confused with the one from his mentor Edmund Husserl, that is radically different from an ontological perspective (Heidegger, 1962).

In particular, we discuss the concept of Ge-stell in order to let the Bestand as “stock” emerge, or “standing reserve,” the term Heidegger uses often. In this sense the Ge-stell is the provocation that leads the human being to collect what is unveiled as a “stock” or an asset, rendering the world and human being into a stockpile of raw materials (Heidegger, 1977). It is out of the scope of the chapter to provide a deep philosophical analysis of the thought of Martin Heidegger, rather we try to use a perspective closer to the concepts of Claudio Ciborra, trying to open new paths from the ones he traced.

Ciborra’s choice to adopt a foundational perspective rooted in phenomenology led to the definition of relevant concepts that are peculiar to the information systems domain, such as the critical concept of infrastructure. We claim that this path is the most suitable one to define the specificity of information systems concepts and meth-odoi, beside the ones of the disciplines that concur in the design and development of information systems, such as sociology, psychology, economics, management, and engineering.

However, it is first necessary to provide a brief description of what is meant by information system. Among the various definitions proposed in the literature, we regard as sufficiently complete and useful for our purposes the one proposed by Buckingham, Hirschheim et al. (1987), for whom an information system is: “[…] a system which assembles, stores, processes and delivers information relevant to an organisation (or to a society), in such a way that the information is accessible and useful to those who wish to use it […] An information system is a human activity (social) system which may or not involve the use of computer systems[…].” This definition highlights what is meant in general by the term system in the expression ‘information system’: the set of actors (people, objects, procedures, etc.) that interact to obtain, produce, and distribute information useful to the participants/users. Furthermore, the considered definition specifies that an information system does not necessarily have to make use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). Nevertheless, today the attention is mainly on ICT adoption and use by people and organizations and mostly focused on “formalised information systems” (Avison & Fitzgerald, 1995) through formal approaches based on rules and clear structures rather than on logical-mathematical models.

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