In every module I have studied as part of MSc Information Systems Management – Information Systems, Digital Innovation and Project Management – there has been a gap between my experience of the field ‘in the real world’ and the methods and areas of studying the field in an academic way. This, of course, is one of the reasons that practitioners take up academic study of their own speciality – a way into what is often a completely different way of approaching what was a familiar landscape.
I have chosen to critique this particular paper because it takes as its subject the possibility of approaching an academic field in more than one way – using different models; each approach may have its supporters and its detractors, but the principle remains the same – make your argument, provide your evidence for your choice of model.
Can the Field of MIS be Disciplined1
Claude Banville and Maurice Landry
The paper is clear about the problem it is about to tackle: while contemporary researchers are increasingly preoccupied about the study of MIS (Management Information System), there is a distinct lack of cohesion about which topics or research methods are appropriate. This points up a wider issue; MIS as a scientific field is of wide interest, yet lacks a clearly defined definition.
An appropriate model is required, argues the paper, in order to help researchers focus on significant factors in the field and to pass judgement on those fields. However, at that point in the development of MIS as an academic, scientific field (the paper was published in 1989) the paper’s authors believe that too many of the models used were in appropriate, in that they were based on an overly narrow Kuhnian view – a monistic view of the field that sought to impose a paradigmatic model.
Banville and Landry argue that a more permissive model would recognise the actual nature of MIS – that it possesses a great many sub-fields due to the sheer variety of core disciplines: ranging from Computer Science to Economics via Management Theory and Psychology. The authors are in favour of Whitley’s view that a more social approach would be of benefit – research work to be viewed in light of its contribution to the collective identity as defined by employment organisations and other major social influences. The field, they believe, results from the combined work of all its practitioners, and previously restrictive models of interpretation did not recognise the diversity this entailed.
The field of MIS, they conclude, will benefit from a pluralist model; its development will be helped not by a single paradigm, but via competition and collaboration between practitioners of a wide variety of disciplines.
The paper seeks to clarify the frameworks used within the academic discipline itself; choice of models and approaches are central to the validity of academic studies, as they define the relevance of any specific study. In seeking the clarify their own field, the authors are taking on a challenge of great importance.
The arguments are complex and involve principles of study that may be unfamiliar to the student – but explanations are clear, without being over-simple, and definitions are provided where necessary.
This is the first academic paper I have read that has included material about the nature of academic study itself; reading and critiquing it has been one of the highlights of the first part of the module.
- Published in Communications of the ACM, January 1989, 32, 1. pp 48-60. ↩