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

Welcome to the club Clay!

Clay Shirky has announced that he is prohibiting the use of information and communications technologies (ICT) in his classes that are about ICT.  He writes:

Anyone distracted in class doesn’t just lose out on the content of the discussion, they create a sense of permission that opting out is OK, and, worse, a haze of second-hand distraction for their peers. In an environment like this, students need support for the better angels of their nature (or at least the more intellectual angels), and they need defenses against the powerful short-term incentives to put off complex, frustrating tasks. That support and those defenses don’t just happen, and they are not limited to the individual’s choices. They are provided by social structure, and that structure is disproportionately provided by the professor, especially during the first weeks of class.

That is exactly right.  I’ve prohibited the use of ICT in my seminar classes for two years now for just this reason.  While we might idealistically aspire to a learning environment in which ICT supplement and enhance learning, the truth is that, overwhelmingly:  students use their phones, tablets and laptops to screw off and not pay attention to what is happening in class. Continue reading

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