The IS Identity Crisis

By GTD Aquitaine (Wikimedia commons public domain)

By GTD Aquitaine (Wikimedia commons public domain)

Research Question: What topics do IS scholars research (i.e., central character)? To what extent has the identity of the IS field remained static over time (i.e., temporal continuity)? How unique is research published in IS vs. non-IS research journals (i.e., distinctiveness)?

Abstract: Defining the central identity of the information systems (IS) field is a subject of ongoing concern and debate among IS researchers. Published empirical studies to date have focused on restricted sets of IS-related journal publications spread across relatively short time periods. This paper offers a broader review of the central identity of the IS field, using three dimensions proposed by Albert and Whetten [1985]: central character (i.e., what topics do IS scholars research?); temporal continuity (i.e., to what extent has the identity of the IS field remained static over time?); and distinctiveness (i.e., how unique is research published in IS vs. non-IS research journals?). The first two dimensions are examined using a dataset containing 6,466 journal citations drawn from seven leading IS journals over a 32-year period, and the third is evaluated by comparing results from these seven journals with research published in 15 leading non-IS business journals over the same time period. Results suggest that articles published in leading IS journals do share a strong central character that is distinct from research published in non-IS journals, and yet an identity that has continually shifted over time. This study contributes to the literature by providing an empirically supported review of who we are, how we are different, and some thoughts about where we may be going as a discipline.

Model:

Findings: Articles published in leading IS journals do share a strong central character that is distinct from research published in non-IS journals, and yet an identity that has continually shifted over time.

Implications: The normative and descriptive approaches lead to different propositions on what constitutes identity … In effect, the normative approach coincides with a “raise the drawbridge” perspective, maintaining that the discipline’s central identity is under attack and will become increasingly ambiguous … In contrast, the descriptive approach coincides with a “let a thousand flowers bloom” perspective, embracing an identity of the field that includes “everything under the broad umbrella of topics studied by the IS research community”.

Citation: Neufeld, D.J., Fang, Y. & Huff, S. (2007). The IS identity crisis. Communications of the Association for Information Systems 19(19), pp. 447-464. [link]