Social Informatics

Social Informatics is scholarly movement focused on the social analyses of information and communications technologies (ICTs). Scholars who engage in social informatics research eschew socially or technologically deterministic discourses in favor of approach that assigns agency equally to the material properties of the computing artifact and the broader social contexts in which the artifact is engaged. A more formal definition of social informatics is “the study of the design, uses, and consequences of ICTs (information and communications technologies) that takes into account their interaction with institutional and cultural contexts (Kling, Rosenbaum, & Sawyer, 2005).” Scholars from the field of Information Systems have termed the social informatics approach the ensemble or the emergent view of technology (c.f., Markus & Robey, 1988; Orlikowski & Iacono, 2001). The key concept here is that the social informaticist views ICTs as a socio-technical network of artifacts, social contexts, and their relationships.

Social informatics arose out of the writings and thinking of Rob Kling and a network of likeminded scholars. Initially social informatics research focused on organizational uses of technology; and much of current social informatics research engages an organizational level of analysis. However, with ICTs becoming ubiquitous in all forms of life – for example cell phones, instant messaging, digital photography, blogs, and e-commerce – there is rich opportunity for extending social informatics research beyond the organizational domain.

My attraction to social informatics is grounded in empirical observations I have made as both a researcher and a practitioner. As a researcher, I have repeatedly observed the ways in which technology shapes, and is shaped by, the social context within which it is used. As a practitioner, I experienced time and again the limitations of utopian discourses about ICTs and experienced the frustration of failed “silver-bullet” technological remedies.

Social Informatics Resources


Some Social Informatics researchers who have influenced my work:

Selected Social Informatics Readings

Boudreau, M.-C., & Robey, D. (2005). Enacting Integrated Information: A Human Agency Perspective. Organization Science, 16(1), 3-18.

Horton, K., Davenport, E., & Wood-Harper, T. (2005). Exploring sociotechnical interaction with Rob Kling: five “big” ideas. Information Technology & People, 18(1), 50.

Kling, R. (1999). What is Social Informatics and Why Does it Matter? D-Lib Magazine Retrieved September 1, 2004, from http://www.dlib.org/dlib/january99/kling/01kling.html

Kling, R., McKim, G., & King, A. (2003). A Bit More to IT: Scholarly Communication Forums as Socio-Technical Interaction Networks. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 54(1), 47-67.

Kling, R., Rosenbaum, H., & Sawyer, S. (2005). Understanding and Communicating Social Informatics: A Framework for Studying and Teaching the Human Contexts of Information and Communications Technologies. Medford, New Jersey: Information Today, Inc.

Kling, R., & Scaachi, W. (1980). Computing as Social Action: The Social Dynamics of Computing in Complex Organizations. Advances in Computers, 19, 249-327.

Kling, R., & Scaachi, W. (1982). The Web of Computing. Advances in Computers, 21, 1-90. Lamb, R., & Sawyer, S. (2005). On extending social informatics from a rich legacy of networks and conceptual resources. Information Technology & People, 18(1), 9.

Markus, M. L., & Robey, D. (1988). Information Technology and Organizational Change: Conceptions of Causality in Theory and Research. Management Science, 34(5), 583-598. Orlikowski, W. J., & Iacono, C. S. (2001). Research commentary: Desperately seeking “IT” in IT research – A call to theorizing the IT artifact. Information Systems Research, 12(2), 121.

Sawyer, S., & Eschenfelder, K. R. (2002). Social Informatics: Perspectives, Examples, and Trends. In B. Cronin (Ed.), Annual Review of Information Science and Technology (Vol. 36, pp. 427-465). Medford, NJ: Information Today Inc./ASIST.
References
Kling, R., Rosenbaum, H., & Sawyer, S. (2005). Teaching Key Ideas of Social Informatics. In Understanding and Communicating Social Informatics: A Framework for Studying and Teaching the Human Contexts of Information and Communications Technologies (pp. 83-103). Medford, N.J.: Information Today Inc.

Markus, M. L., & Robey, D. (1988). Information Technology and Organizational Change: Conceptions of Causality in Theory and Research. Management Science, 34(5), 583-598.

Orlikowski, W. J., & Iacono, C. S. (2001). Research commentary: Desperately seeking “IT” in IT research – A call to theorizing the IT artifact. Information Systems Research, 12(2), 121.

Recent Posts

Getting a Ph.D.

Jill Yesko, ABD writes in Inside Higher Ed that universities should award a consolation degree for doctoral students who fail to matriculate out of the program.  She offers several reasons for why such an alternate degree would be valuable:

  1. Granting a “CDC” (Certificate of Doctoral Completion) would allow ABD students to attain a Ph.D. if they elect to “complete the full doctoral process.”
  2. Granting a “CDC” would inflate completion rates thus attracting more students who presumably would be otherwise intimidated by the low completion rates.
  3. Granting a “CDC” would streamline the process of bringing academic teachers to colleges and universities.”
  4. “Conferring CDC status also would go a long way toward healing the psychic wounds of the thousands of ABDs, and would help undertake much-needed reforms.”

There are numerous problems with her reasoning, but before addressing them, let us begin with the premise in which Ms. Yesko begins her plaint:

A Ph.D. student is playing poker. As a result of her hard work, piles of chips are stacked in front of her. On her last round, she bets the house, risking all of her hard-earned winnings. She holds her breath as she pushes the chips to the center of the table.  But instead of victory, the student loses. All of her work and winnings erased — nothing to show for her efforts but empty pockets and frustration.

The poker metaphor describes the hellish fate of the all-but-dissertation (ABD) student. Only in the parallel universe of academia is it possible to log years of Herculean scholarship, write and defend a complex dissertation proposal, and — upon failing to complete one’s dissertation — come away with nothing to show but the humiliation of not being recognized by the academic industrial complex for one’s blood, sweat and uncompensated toil.

This scenario is very illuminating in that it highlights the underlying fallacy of Ms. Yesko’s argument and possibly explains why she failed to obtain her degree.  Doctorate degrees are not degrees for getting good grades in class nor memorizing the canon of the field.  Indeed, coursework is the easiest part of obtaining a doctoral degree because like all academic classes they are highly structured with usually strict deadlines thus making it easy for the doctoral student to stay engaged and productive.

It is after classes are complete and comprehensive examinations are passed that the real challenge (and basis) of earning a doctoral degree kicks in. Continue reading

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