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

The moral bankruptcy of the NCAA.

I have commented at length about the NCAA’s gross abuse of Penn State, and here is one more.

As noted before, the NCAA egregiously stepped beyond its sanctioned prerogatives to hammer Penn State with the Consent Decree, thus simultaneously satisfying the mob and the preening Mark Emmert’s desire to champion himself as “The Great Reformer.”  Little of of what the NCAA did to Penn State was based on fairness, due process, or rules.  The same Mark Emmert who, when trying to justify his 7-figure salary stated:

“People say this guy is hypocritical because he’s well compensated. Well, I am well compensated. But I’ve never understood compensation in America.”

He understands compensation enough to get more of it with each new job.

As the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court points out (emphasis added):

The Consent Decree expressly recognizes the NCAA’s questionable involvement in and dubious authority pertaining to a criminal action against a non-university official which involved children who were non-university student-athletes…

and…

The NCAA Constitution and the Bylaws Enforcement Program mandate the NCAA in situations of alleged noncompliance to “afford . . . fair procedures” and “provide fairness to uninvolved student-athletes, coaches, administrators, competitors[16] and other institutions.” NCAA Constitution and Bylaws, Article2.8.2, Article 19.01.1 (emphasis added). The NCAA Constitution and Bylaws then delineates and diagrams the required notices of charges, investigations, hearing committees in a specified order and appeal procedures. The NCAA Enforcement Program also details the types of violations and applicable penalties therefor. It further denotes that the “death penalty” applies only to repeat violators. NCAA Constitution and Bylaws, Article 19.5.2.1.2. “[T]he by-laws constitute the contract between the stockholders and are subject to the rules governing a written contract signed by all the parties. It follows that contracting parties cannot ignore their own contractual covenants with impunity and still seek to hold the others to the contract[.]

And so we have it, a legal body ruling as a matter of law that the NCAA’s punishment of Penn State was capricious, self-serving, and in violation of the body’s own contract with its membership.

Contrast how Mark Emmert and his apparatchiks have handled Penn State with how they have handled the University of North Carolina.

Unlike Penn State’s case which was a criminal matter that whose only connection to Penn State football was that it involved the former head coach and a former assistant coach at a university with an otherwise impeccable record of athletic and academic integrity, the UNC scandal goes to the very purpose of the NCAA which is to ensure the integrity of collegiate athletic competition:  UNC funneled its prized athletes into bogus courses for the explicit purpose of maintaining their eligibility to compete:

Rashad McCants, the second-leading scorer on the North Carolina basketball team that won the 2004-05 national title, told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that tutors wrote his term papers, he rarely went to class for about half his time at UNC, and he remained able to play largely because he took bogus classes designed to keep athletes academically eligible.

McCants told “Outside the Lines” that he could have been academically ineligible to play during the championship season had he not been provided the assistance. Further, he said head basketball coach Roy Williams knew about the “paper class” system at UNC. The so-called paper classes didn’t require students to go to class; rather, students were required to submit only one term paper to receive a grade.

McCants also told “Outside the Lines” that he even made the dean’s list in the spring of 2005 despite not attending any of his four classes for which he received straight-A grades. He said advisers and tutors who worked with the basketball program steered him to take the paper classes within the African-American Studies program.

This scandal at UNC is not new. (nor is it unique as UNC had been sanctioned previously for academic fraud with athletes in 2012). Indeed, the NCAA has already ruled on the matter:

An enforcement staff member made “several” trips to Chapel Hill in the fall of 2011, according to the statement, and found “no violations of current NCAA rules or student-athlete eligibility issues related to courses in African and Afro-American Studies.”

The university also supplied the NCAA with a copy of the internal review it finished in May.

“University officials will continue to keep the NCAA informed as developments warrant,” the statement said.

Indeed, if you search the NCAA’s online database of major infractions cases, you may be surprised to learn that there isn’t one for North Carolina regarding this matter.  Apparently at the NCAA actually violating NCAA rules doesn’t merit sanction, but not violating them does.

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