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 12: Towards Critical Interpretivism in IS Research

Bill Doolin and Laurie McLeod


Bill Doolin and Laurie McLeod Introduction This chapter proposes and outlines a critical approach to interpretive research on information systems (IS). The chapter first establishes the need for such a critical research project by rehearsing the existing critique of interpretive research. It then proposes a solution in the form of ‘critical interpretivism’. Critical interpretivism is grounded in three principles: (i) the construction of detailed, local and situated empirical interpretation; (ii) a reflective approach that reveals and disrupts the assumptions and certainties that reinforce the status quo in organizations; and (iii) the connection of interpretation to broader considerations of power and control. The chapter illustrates the application of critical interpretivism to IS research through three case studies. Each case study draws on a particular theoretical perspective to inform the critical interpretation and analysis of the development or implementation of different information systems. The different theoretical perspectives emphasize the plurality of critical approaches possible within critical interpretivism (see Thomas 1993). The first case study mobilizes a Foucauldian conception of power to understand the implementation of and resistance to a medical management information system; the second utilizes actor-network theory (Law and Hassard 1999) to explain the development and abandonment of an executive information system; and the third draws on a structurational model of information technology (IT) to conceptualize the development and use of a company intranet. Central to the argument in this chapter, is that interpretive IS researchers need to consciously adopt a critical and reflective stance in relation to the...

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