Dropping Your Tools: Exploring When and How Theories Can Serve as Blinders in IS Research

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Vol: 28, Issue: 1

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Holmström, Jonny; Truex, Duane
theory; research diversity; Actor Network Theory; Structuration Theory
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The debate between protagonists of different theoretical approaches continues in the IS field, with little prospect of resolution. The debate is typically characterized by tendentious arguments as advocates of each approach offer a one-sided condemnation of other approaches. Debate on the qualities of theoretical explanations of technological change is hampered by the shadow of supremacist strategies that is cast over the debate, illustrating the manner in which IS researchers are polarized into opposing camps, each viewing the other as inferior. Ironically further polarization is occurring in the ways that various groups of IS scholars are simultaneously calling for order, discipline and clearer notions of the “core of the discipline” while other scholars call for greater research diversity. In order to overcome this polarization we advocate a strategy recommended by Weick [1996]: Drop your tools—hold your concepts lightly and update them frequently. Three reasons for dropping our theoretical tools are put forward—the focus on improving practice, the focus on building cumulative tradition in the mother discipline, and the focus on building cumulative tradition in one’s own discipline—suggesting researchers must consider the “fit” between problem domain, theory and the relationship of the chosen theory to the method of inquiry.