Theory and Application
Edited by Debra Howcroft and Eileen M. Trauth
Chapter 11: Critical Engagement: Why, What and How?
Geoff Walsham Why critical engagement? In seeking a deﬁnition for critical research in the information systems (IS) ﬁeld, the early article by Orlikowski and Baroudi (1991) remains helpful. They describe the critical researcher’s beliefs about reality, knowledge and the role of research as follows: [S]ocial reality is historically constituted … everything possesses an unfulﬁlled potentiality, and people, by recognizing these possibilities, can act to change their material and social circumstances … knowledge is grounded in social and historical practices … the role of the researcher is to bring to consciousness the restrictive conditions of the status quo, thereby initiating change in the social relations and practices, and helping to eliminate the bases of alienation and domination. (pp. 19–21) Bearing in mind the clear anti-establishment agenda of the above mission statement for the critical IS researcher, it is no great surprise that Orlikowski and Baroudi recorded that critical studies in four ‘major information systems outlets’ were non-existent. These outlets were Communications of the ACM, ICIS Proceedings, Management Science and MIS Quarterly. Over a decade later, the position would be not dissimilar in the conservative mainstream. Although the ‘major outlets’ would now probably include Information Systems Research, and exclude one or two of the original set, the proportion of ‘critical’ articles in these outlets remains very low. However, the overall position of the IS ﬁeld has changed somewhat. There is increasing interest in critical studies, as reﬂected in this book, for example. It is also reﬂected in a signi...
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