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Research Commentary: Desperately Seeking the “IT” in IT Research—A Call to Theorizing the IT Artifact

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  • Wanda J. Orlikowski

    () (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02142)

  • C. Suzanne Iacono

    () (National Science Foundation, Arlington, Virginia 22230)

Abstract

The field of information systems is premised on the centrality of information technology in everyday socio-economic life. Yet, drawing on a review of the full set of articles published in Information Systems Research ( ISR ) over the past ten years, we argue that the field has not deeply engaged its core subject matter—the information technology (IT) artifact. Instead, we find that IS researchers tend to give central theoretical significance to the context (within which some usually unspecified technology is seen to operate), the discrete processing capabilities of the artifact (as separable from its context or use), or the dependent variable (that which is posited to be affected or changed as technology is developed, implemented, and used). The IT artifact itself tends to disappear from view, be taken for granted, or is presumed to be unproblematic once it is built and installed. After discussing the implications of our findings, we propose a research direction for the IS field that begins to take technology as seriously as its effects, context, and capabilities. In particular, we propose that IS researchers begin to theorize specifically about IT artifacts, and then incorporate these theories explicitly into their studies. We believe that such a research direction is critical if IS research is to make a significant contribution to the understanding of a world increasingly suffused with ubiquitous, interdependent, and emergent information technologies.

Suggested Citation

  • Wanda J. Orlikowski & C. Suzanne Iacono, 2001. "Research Commentary: Desperately Seeking the “IT” in IT Research—A Call to Theorizing the IT Artifact," Information Systems Research, INFORMS, vol. 12(2), pages 121-134, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:orisre:v:12:y:2001:i:2:p:121-134
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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/isre.12.2.121.9700
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Daniel Robey & Marie-Claude Boudreau, 1999. "Accounting for the Contradictory Organizational Consequences of Information Technology: Theoretical Directions and Methodological Implications," Information Systems Research, INFORMS, vol. 10(2), pages 167-185, June.
    2. Gerardine DeSanctis & Marshall Scott Poole, 1994. "Capturing the Complexity in Advanced Technology Use: Adaptive Structuration Theory," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 5(2), pages 121-147, May.
    3. Cynthia Mathis Beath & Wanda J. Orlikowski, 1994. "The Contradictory Structure of Systems Development Methodologies: Deconstructing the IS-User Relationship in Information Engineering," Information Systems Research, INFORMS, vol. 5(4), pages 350-377, December.
    4. Wanda J. Orlikowski, 2000. "Using Technology and Constituting Structures: A Practice Lens for Studying Technology in Organizations," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 11(4), pages 404-428, August.
    5. Gary C. Moore & Izak Benbasat, 1991. "Development of an Instrument to Measure the Perceptions of Adopting an Information Technology Innovation," Information Systems Research, INFORMS, vol. 2(3), pages 192-222, September.
    6. M. Lynne Markus & Daniel Robey, 1988. "Information Technology and Organizational Change: Causal Structure in Theory and Research," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 34(5), pages 583-598, May.
    7. Joey F. George & George K. Easton & J. F. Nunamaker & Gregory B. Northcraft, 1990. "A Study of Collaborative Group Work With and Without Computer-Based Support," Information Systems Research, INFORMS, vol. 1(4), pages 394-415, December.
    8. Wanda J. Orlikowski, 1992. "The Duality of Technology: Rethinking the Concept of Technology in Organizations," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 3(3), pages 398-427, August.
    9. Daniel Robey & Sundeep Sahay, 1996. "Transforming Work Through Information Technology: A Comparative Case Study of Geographic Information Systems in County Government," Information Systems Research, INFORMS, vol. 7(1), pages 93-110, March.
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