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What is Interpretive Research


Views of data, ontology, knowledge and theory/practice link. Philosophical traditions ... Some Philosophical Traditions Underpinning Interpretive Research ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: What is Interpretive Research

What is Interpretive Research?
  • Geoff Walsham
  • Lecture 1 of Course on Interpretive Research in
    IS - Oslo University

Contents of Lecture 1
  • Definitions of interpretive research
  • Views of data, ontology, knowledge and
    theory/practice link
  • Philosophical traditions
  • Current status in the IS literature
  • Can interpretive research be critical?

A Definition (Orlikowski and Baroudi 1991)
  • Interpretive studies assume that people create
    and associate their own subjective and
    intersubjective meanings as they interact with
    the world around them. Interpretive researchers
    thus attempt to understand phenomena through
    accessing the meanings participants assign to

A Second Definition (Walsham 1993)
  • Interpretive methods of research start from the
    position that our knowledge of reality, including
    the domain of human action, is a social
    construction by human actors and that this
    applies equally to researchers. Thus there is no
    objective reality which can be discovered by
    researchers and replicated by others, in contrast
    to the assumptions of positivist science

Interpretive View of Data (Geertz 1973)
  • What we call our data are really our own
    constructions of other peoples constructions of
    what they and their compatriots are up to

Interpretive Ontology (Walsham 1995)
  • Internal realism Reality-for-us is an
    inter-subjective construction of the shared human
    cognitive apparatus
  • Subjective idealism Each person constructs his
    or her own reality

Interpretive View of Knowledge (Orlikowski and
Baroudi 1991)
  • Social process is not captured in hypothetical
    deductions, covariances and degrees of freedom.
    Instead, understanding social process involves
    getting inside the world of those generating it

Theory and Practice (Orlikowski and Baroudi 1991)
  • The interpretive research approach towards the
    relationship between theory and practice is that
    the researcher can never assume a value-neutral
    stance, and is always implicated in the phenomena
    being studied
  • There is no direct access to reality unmediated
    by language and preconception

Some Philosophical Traditions Underpinning
Interpretive Research (Walsham 1995)
  • Phenomenology e.g. Zuboff 1988
  • Ethnomethodology e.g. Suchman 1987
  • Hermeneutics e.g. Boland and Day 1989

Current Status of Interpretive Research in IS
  • Better represented now compared to Orlikowski and
    Baroudis (1991) data
  • Some interpretive articles in top journals such
    as MIS Quarterly and Information Systems Research
    (although still a small minority)
  • Information and Organization contains many
    interpretive studies
  • Other IS journals publish interpretive studies
    European Journal of IS Scandinavian Journal of
    IS Information Society IT People etc.

Critical IS Research (Orlikowski and Baroudi 1991)
  • Critically evaluate and transform the social
    reality under investigation
  • Everything possesses an unfulfilled
    potentiality, and people, by recognizing these
    possibilities, can act to change their material
    and social circumstances
  • The role of the researcher is to bring to
    consciousness the restrictive conditions of the
    status quo

Interpretive Versus Critical (Walsham 1993)
  • The research described in this book has elements
    of both the interpretive and critical traditions
    … and does not fit in one of these two categories
    … theories, such as structuration theory, are
    indeed an attempt to dissolve the boundaries
    between such traditions, in emphasizing not only
    the importance of subjective meanings for the
    individual actor, but also the social structures
    which condition and enable such meanings and are
    constituted by them

My Current Position
  • Research can be both interpretive and critical.
    Stronger critical emphasis comes from
  • Motivation - what is wrong in the world rather
    than right
  • Focus - on issues such as asymmetries of power
  • Theory - with a critical edge e.g. Frankfurt
    school, Bourdieu, feminism, post-colonialism
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