Thursday, March 7, 2013
(rev. 26 Feb 2013)
As Doug said in his recent President's Message (Vogel
2013), history is important. We don't
want to be backward-looking, and it may be an exaggeration to say that
ignorance of history condemns us to repeat errors.
But there are considerable benefits in appreciating where
we've come from, what we're building on, and whose shoulders we're standing on
in order to create a cumulative tradition (Keen 1980).
US society has been virile for well over a century, and
its energy, multiplied by its scale, have ensured that the contributions of
North Americans to the history of IS have been well out of proportion to
population-size. On the other hand, the
USA has no priority claim on IS, because the decisive events that mark the
discipline's beginnings in the early-to-mid 1960s occurred in Scandinavia and
Germany, just before those in the UK and the USA (Clarke 2008, pp. 53-61).
Debates about primacy are picayune. Much more important is recognition that the
discipline has always had different flavors in different countries, and that
this diversity has been a vital contributor to the discipline's richness, and
to its capacity to adapt to changing circumstances.
North America has a strong and deep tradition in
quantitative empiricism, and in knowledge transfer through structured Ph.D.
programs. That its most common context
is business schools has proven to be both an intellectual benefit and a
political disadvantage. In other
English-speaking countries, and across Europe, the locations and affinities of
IS academics have been much more varied.
Interpretivism, qualitative empiricism and a preference for
participative rather than authoritarian management styles have long held
greater sway (Galliers & Whitley 2007).
North American and European traditions have played in both
directions across the Atlantic, to the benefit of research quality and
understanding on all continents.
In German-speaking countries, meanwhile, the
Wirtschaftsinformatik community has sustained a design orientation and stonger
links to technical underpinnings than has IS in other regions and
language-groups (Ulrich et al. 2008).
This represents a counterweight against the risk of IS fashion
retreating into social science observation alone, and even into postmodernist
It's to be welcomed that AIS now has a Department Editor
for History, that a special section on history topics will appear across two
Issues of the Journal of Information Technology in mid-2013, and that panels on
history topics are being proposed for PACIS, ACIS and ECIS.
Particular IS history chronicles and analyses may of
course legitimately adopt specific perspectives. But it's vital that the overall approach to
history by the discipline, and by AIS, be both universalist and pluralist -
owned by all, not some.
Clarke R. (2008)
'A Retrospective on the Information Systems Discipline in
Australia' Chapter 2 of Gable G.G. et
al. (2008) 'The Information Systems Discipline in Australia' ANU e-Press, 2008,
PrePrint at http://www.rogerclarke.com/SOS/AISHist.html
Galliers R.D. & Whitley E.A. (2007) 'Vive les differences?
Developing a profile of European information systems
research as a basis for international comparisons' European Journal of Information Systems 16
Keen P. (1980)
'MIS Research: Reference Disciplines and a Cumulative Tradition' in McLean E. (Ed.), Proc. 1st Int'l Conf.
(ICIS), 1980, 9-18
Ulrich F., Schauer, C. & Wigand R.T. (2008) 'Different Paths of Development of Two
Information Systems Communities: A Comparative Study Based on Peer
Interviews' Communications of the
Association for Information Systems 22, 21, at
Vogel, D. (2013)
'In Praise of Our History (and Future)'
AIS Newsletter, 11 February 2013, at https://ais.site-ym.com/news/116425/Presidents-Message-In-Praise-of-Our-History-and-Future.htm