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 10: The Wrong Trousers? Beyond the Design Fallacy: Social Learning and the User

James Stewart and Robin Williams


James Stewart and Robin Williams Introduction This chapter reflects critically upon how a substantial body of writings in technology studies and user-oriented computing have sought to conceptualize design – and their tacit and explicit presumptions about what is wrong with technology design/development processes as currently practised.1 Many of these analyses share a paradoxical view of design: presenting on the one hand a rather heroic view of design as successfully embedding a range of explicit purposes and implicit values (a view we refer to as the ‘design fallacy’), while on the other hand demonizing design practices and outcomes. The chapter argues that this account is inadequate and derives from a flawed ‘design-centred’ perspective – that focuses narrowly on particular design episodes and conceives these as leading to finished solutions to social/ organizational needs. The chapter presents an alternative view of the role of design in the development of new technologies, particularly in relation to new information and communication technologies (ICTs), that has emerged in the course of the European Union Social Learning in Multimedia (SLIM) research project.2 A social learning perspective is outlined that sees design outcomes/supplier offerings as inevitably unfinished in relation to complex heterogeneous and evolving user requirements. Further innovation takes place as artefacts are implemented and used. To be used and useful, ICT artefacts must be ‘domesticated’ and become embedded in broader systems of culture and information practices. In this process, artefacts are often reinvented and further elaborated (‘innofusion’). The social learning perspective (Rip et al. 1995) analyses...

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