…but as a personal non-conformist, I’m still toast!

I’m reading Lyytinen and King’s 2004 JAIS article “Nothing at the Center? Academic Legitimacy in the Information Systems Field.” They offer a fascinating discussion of what constitutes legitimacy in any academic discipline. They say the contention that we must have some core theory at the heart of our discipline is false. Instead, they say any good discipline should base itself on a market of ideas, where all players can easily enter (and exit) and seek an audience for their ideas. Lyytinen and King argue that, just as in the economic realm, a market of ideas will support the innovation and swift adaptation necessary to produce salient findings and strong results. (That’s my effort to boil down into one sentence their three main criteria for legitimacy: salience, strong results, and plasticity.)

Of course, they recognize that practically/politically speaking, we’re not going to experience a fully free market of ideas. As we aspiring academics engage that political discourse, we have to decide where we stand along two dimensions: personal–depersonalized and conformist–non-conformist.

The personal view takes the IS field as “my” disicpline, the one I have a personal stake in not just as my bread and butter (though that’s part of it) but also as an entity I am obliged to protect and improve. The depersonalized view can take the field or leave it.

The conformist accepts the status quo of dominant theoretical constructs and methodologies. The non-conformist says the status quo always changes. Society and research both present new challenges (new salient issues) that will demand changes in theoretical bases and research methods, so why buy into a given set of biases and traditions as legitimate and authoritative… says the non-conformist.

Guess which one I am.

Lyytinen and King draw a nice little grid, arrange the dimensions, and describe each one. I’m in Cell III. Shhh… don’t tell anyone! ;-)

Personal Depersonalized
Conformist Cell I: Stable and established academic fields Cell II: External commentary on the academic realm
Non-conformist Cell III: Entrepreneurial innovator, not viable in the academy Cell IV: Unstable and emergent academic fields
Table 2 from Lyytinen and King (2004), p. 238

I laughed when I read the table. If I have to shift, I suspect it will be easier for me to shift along the personal axis that the conformity axis. Maybe I can make Cell IV!

Lyytinen, K., & King, J. L. (2004). Nothing at the Center? Academic Legitimacy in the Information Systems Field. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 5(6), 220-246.
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