Critical systemic thinking as a foundation for information systems research practice

Peter Bednar, Christine Welch

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Information Systems (IS) research – critical systemic thinking (CST). Drawing upon previous work, the authors highlight the principal features of CST within the tradition of critical research and attempt to relate it to trends in the Italian school of IS research in recent years, as exemplified by the work of Claudio Ciborra but also evident in work by, e.g. Resca, Jacucci and D’Atri. Design/methodology/approach – This is a conceptual paper which explores CST, characterised by a focus on individual uniqueness, and socially-constructed, individual worldviews as generators of human knowing. Findings – The paper draws on work by Heinz Klein in which he elaborated three constitutive stages in critical research: interpretive, genealogical and constructive. The authors introduce a fourth, reflective stage and discuss five categories of critical research, reflecting different perspectives on emancipation, culminating in emergent expressionism, associated with Ciborra and the Italian school more generally. Research limitations/implications – This paper discusses approaches to CST and how they might have practical implications in IS development. The distinction between approaches founded in logical empiricism and those founded in hermeneutic dialectics are considered and the development of critical and systems strands are discussed. Practical implications – The paper addresses CST as an approach to development of information systems. Such approaches enable users to explore their individually unique understandings and create a constructive dialogue with one another, which emancipates and empowers users to own and control their own development processes and hence build more productive and usable systems. Social implications – A focus on research which is oriented towards emancipation in the tradition of critical social theory. Originality/value – The paper draws on extensive theoretical research carried out by the authors over a period of more than ten years in CST and synthesises the practical implications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-155
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Information, Communication & Ethics in Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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