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IT artefacts as socio-pragmatic instruments – towards an integration of the pragmatic, social, semiotic and technical

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conference contribution
posted on 2012-08-17, 08:10 authored by Goran Goldkuhl, Par J. Agerfalk
Development and implementation of an information system (IS) is a very demanding task, and many times the expectations from such endeavours are not met. Unexpected negative effects often arise while anticipated positive effects fail to appear. There are many attempts to explain IS failures in general terms. Some of them refer to a socio-technical gap; a gap between what is socially required and what is technically feasible (e.g. Ackerman, 2002). Such explanations tend to make a sharp differentiation between the social and the technical. For example in the socio-technical tradition represented by Mumford & Weir (1979) there are discussions about balancing the technical system and the social system. This is built upon a view that computerized Information systems are technical systems with social and organizational effects and that there exist a “serving system” to support a “system to be served” (Champion & Stowell, 2002). There are criticisms towards such a conceptualization. For example Nurminen (1988, p 82) writes “by removing the social dimension from the systems entity, we imply that the technical system is basically non-social”. In the same spirit, Goldkuhl & Lyytinen (1982) suggest that the traditional view “technical systems with social Implications” should be inverted to “social systems, only technically implemented”. As pointed out by Mead (1934): “Language does not simply symbolize a situation or object which is already there in advance – it makes possible the existence or appearance of that situation or object, for it is part of the mechanism whereby that situation or object is created.” Instead of a separation into a social realm (humans acting in the IS environment) and technical realm (the IS), another approach is preferred. Using “social” and “technical” as dimensions of the realms to study. The theoretical way to proceed is to articulate a common theory for both the IS and its organizational context. The concepts of social and technical are however not found to be sufficient. The purpose of this short paper is to outline a theory appropriate for interpretation, description, explanation and evaluation of the interaction between information systems and their organizational context. The developed theory involves besides “social” and “technical” also generic constructs as “instrumental”, “semiotic” and “pragmatic”. We call this theory socio-instrumental pragmatism, aligning with the work of Goldkuhl (2002). For illustrative purposes we will use a simple example of an IS. The example is brought from an extensive empirical study. This study involves an action research endeavour including development of an IS in an eldercare setting. The IS and its supported workpractice were developed through a participatory design approach. We will not describe this case study in any detail; but rather use part of the developed system and the workpractice in order to illustrate our theoretical endeavour.



Workshop on Understanding Sociotechnical Action;



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