Benbasat, I., & Weber, R. (1996). Research commentary: Rethinking diversity in information systems research. Information Systems Research, 7(4), 389-399.

In this regard, the distinguished organizational scientist, Jeffrey Pfeffer (1993, 1995), has argued that lack of paradigmatic development and the ensuing consensus that arises within a discipline undermine outcomes like funding levels, publication productivity, and political influence. [p.393]

So much for just hanging out in the library and doing research.

Much as I might not like it, Benbasat and Weber make the practical point that, no matter how much we may enjoy diving into the comfy confines of our books and journals and research projects, we do have to consider the image of our discipline in the rest of academia. If the administrators, regents, and other faculty competing with us for resources don’t think we are sufficiently rigorous, we will find ourselves struggling to secure the resources we need to keep our offices, our journal subscriptions, and our funding. No matter how satisfied we may be with our research and other activities in our field, we have to worry about what others think of us and how those opinions might impact our funding.

On methodology:

In any event, for some IS researchers, disputes about methodology are a straw man. They entertain and distract a discipline when it lacks substantive theory to debate. Furthermore, to quote Keen (1991, p. 42), “methodology is a choice not a tyranny.” Again, methodology is not the main game. [p.394]

Indeed, if we lack a unifying theory or even competing theories to provoke disputes, how we arrive at our results would seem to be the least of our worries.

Keen refers to IS as a self-defined community. King refers to it as an intellectual convocation. When Benbasat and Weber worry that our diversity and breadth may leave IS with bothing to hold it together[p.394], maybe they put too little stock in the intentionality of the community that they mention just a couple sentences before. Researchers (including myself!) join this field in part because they prefer the diversity and breadth of topics involved. Maybe IS is the field for the scholars who would buck the specialization trend, who don’t want to spend their entire careers studying one variable in one economics formula or one sorting algorithm. Maybe that desire for diversity and breadth, the drive to forge synthesis of all the varied fields we find in IS, will be the very glue that keeps the field together. Perhaps IS is an intentional community of academics, held together not by external rules or truths but by internal choices.

If we engage in discourse, therefore, on the value of diversity in the IS discipline, is it a goal to be achieved or a factor to be manipulated to achieve other goals? Moreover, what are these other goals? [p.396]

Diversity doesn’t work as a goal in itself. It is a positive characteristic of IS, but only because it informs a useful worldview. If other fields are specializing, keeping a diversity of backgrounds, theories, methodologies, etc. gives IS a unique and important worldview. We can see the connections and global issues that specialists will miss. Diversity is a means to that end.

Maybe this is the big picture (or maybe this is a wild philosophical ramble): the rawest material of IS is information. Every phenomenon we study and every new procedure we create deals with information, which is only relevant in the context of how it affects the thoughts, beliefs, and actions of humans. Information systems are affecting humans in every field. We thus need researchers of diverse backgrounds and interests as well as a field-wide diversity-embracing worldview that will allow us to study and benefit all of those IS-impacted fields. Furthermore, if we are to generate any Grand Unifying Theory of IS, we have to be able to access examples from all possible fields to test and refine our hypotheses. We can’t look just at database management or economics or sociology or psychology; we need members of our field studying data from and contributing data to all other fields. Everything is our reference discipline… and we might be everyone else’s reference discipline.

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