Is all diversity good/bad – a taxonomy of diversity in the IS discipline

In a previous post I pointed to and summarised a working paper that suggests that IS research is not all that diverse. At least at the conceptual level.

The Information Systems (IS) discipline has for a number of years been having an on-going debate about whether or not the discipline is diverse or not. A part of that argument has been discussion about whether diversity is good or bad for IS and for a discipline in general.

Too much diversity is seen as threatening the academic legitimacy and credibility of a discipline. Others have argued that too little diversity could also cause problems.

While reading the working paper titled “Metaphor, meaning and myth: Exploring diversity in information systems research” I began wondering about the definition of diversity. In particular, the questions I was thinking about were

  1. What are the different types of diversity in IS research?
    Based on the working paper I believe there are a number of different types of diversity. What are they?
  2. Are all types of diversity bad or good?
    Given I generally don’t believe in universal generalisations, my initial guess is that the answer will be “it depends”. In some contexts/purposes, some will be bad and some will be good.
  3. Is this topic worth of a publication (or two) exploring these questions and the implications they have for IS and also for other disciplines and research in general?
    Other disciplines have had these discussions.
  4. Lastly, what work have IS researchers already done in answering these questions, particularly the first two?
    There’s been a lot of work in this area, so surely someone has provided some answers to these questions.

What different types of diversity exist?

The working paper that sparked these questions talks about conceptual diversity.

It also references Benbasat and Weber (1996) – two of the titans of the IS discipline and this article is perhaps one of “the” articles in this area – who propose three ways of recognising research diversity

  1. Diversity in the problems addressed.
  2. Diversity in the theoretical foundations and reference disciplines used to account for IS phenomena.
  3. Diversity of research methods used to collect, analyse and interpret data.

The working paper also suggests that Vessey et al (2002) added two further characteristics

  1. Research approach.
  2. Research method.

I haven’t read the Vessey paper but given this summary, I’m a bit confused. These two additional characteristics seem to fit into the 3rd “way” from Benbasat and Weber. Obviously some more reading is required.

In the work on my thesis I’m drawing on four classes of questions about a domain of knowledge from Gregor (2006). They are

  1. Domain questions. What phenomena are of interest in the discipline? What are the core problems or topics of interest? What are the boundaries of the discipline?
  2. Structural or ontological questions. What is theory? How is this term understood in the discipline? Of what is theory composed? What forms do contributions to knowledge take? How is theory expressed? What types of claims or statements can be made? What types of questions are addressed?
  3. Epistemological questions. How is theory constructed? How can scientific knowledge be acquired? How is theory tested? What research methods can be used? What criteria are applied to judge the soundness and rigour of research methods?
  4. Socio-political questions. How is the disciplinary knowledge understood by stakeholders against the backdrop of human affairs? Where and by whom has theory been developed? What are the history and sociology of theory evolution? Are scholars in the discipline in general agreement about current theories or do profound differences of opinion exist? How is knowledge applied? Is the knowledge expected to be relevant and useful in a practical sense? Are there social, ethical or political issues associated with the use of the disciplinary knowledge?

I wonder if these questions might form a useful basis or a contribution to a taxonomy of diversity in IS. At this stage, I think some sort of taxonomy of diversity might indeed be useful.

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