Handbook of Critical Information Systems Research
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Handbook of Critical Information Systems Research

Theory and Application

Edited by Debra Howcroft and Eileen M. Trauth

This important Handbook provides a unique overview of information systems (IS) research by focusing on the increasing interest in critical-related issues.
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Chapter 5: Taking a Critical Linguistic Turn: Using Critical Discourse Analysis for the Study of Information Systems

Rosio Alvarez


Rosio Alvarez Introduction Nearly two decades ago Enid Mumford wrote: ‘we have been looking critically at the kinds of research associated up to now with information science, and discussing the need for new approaches’ (Mumford et al. 1985: foreword). At the time, there was growing concern by information systems (IS) researchers that traditional methods could not adequately investigate social needs and problems of IS design, implementation and use. Researchers critiqued the dominant ‘scientific method’ that most studies employed, and while not rooted in a single theoretical perspective, these studies were overwhelmingly based on positivist assumptions (Orlikowski and Baroudi 1991). Now, almost 20 years later, a cursory sampling indicates a changing research landscape with approaches such as actor-network theory (Bloomfield et al. 1992; Latour 1996; Wilson 2002), critical social theory (Hirschheim and Klein 1989, 1994; Ngwenyama 1991; Lyytinen 1992; Päivärinta 2001) structuration theory (Orlikowski and Robey 1991; Orlikowski 1992; Yates and Orlikowski 1992) and action research (Avison et al. 2001; Kock and Lau 2001), all of which critically view IS development as a socio-organizational and, simultaneously, technological phenomenon. This chapter continues in this tradition by presenting critical discourse analysis as an approach for understanding IS as a discursively constructed phenomenon embedded within social structures. Critical discourse analysis fundamentally concerns itself with critically analysing language or semiotics in the context of social interactions. But why should IS researchers concern themselves with language? This chapter will explore this question and present an argument for understanding IS design and use...

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