IS 7021: The Philosophy of Science & Qualitative Research Methods


Dr. Mary C. Lacity

233 Computer Center Building

(314) 516-6127 (work)

(314) 516-6827 (fax)



Wednesday, 9:00 to 11:40, 2nd floor CCB Conference Room (212)


Only students officially admitted to a Ph.D. Program at UMSL are allowed to register for class.


Fall 2010 CLASS



This seminar presents an introduction to philosophical concepts and qualitative research methods underlying scientific inquest in IS research. The philosophical and methodological foundations of information systems are largely built upon the philosophies, theories, and methods from other disciplines, including the physical sciences, computer science, sociology, psychology, and mathematics.  In this course, we survey a variety of philosophical perspectives and qualitative methods from other disciplines by reading the original works, critical responses to these works, and representative applications of these ideas in the IS domain.


Logically, we should first cover philosophy of science, followed by qualitative methods.  Practically, we study qualitative research methods first because students need the entire semester to complete the qualitative research project.  Week two we cover sociological paradigms (part of philosophy of science), but then we are going to study qualitative research methods followed by more philosophy of science.



There are ten books and about 35 readings on the reading list.  You may purchase books from Amazon or borrow from the library. I have an additional copy of books by Kuhn, Von Bertalanffy, Giddens and Burrell & Morgan someone may borrow from me.  Nearly all the papers are available on ABI-inform.  The few book chapters I will distribute in hard-copy.


Learning to read a book. I know the new students may be intimated by this reading list.  During your studies, you will learn how to digest most of a book’s content in about 4 hours.  I spend about ½ hour skimming through the book covers, preface, bibliography, and reading each chapter’s introductory paragraphs, subtitles, tables, and graphs.  This provides a “feel” for the book in terms of the author’s overall position, arguments, and evidence.  Then you can speed read the contents, paying particularly attention to the first few chapters.        






Percent of Grade

Due Date

Weekly Quizzes


Start of Class

Weekly Class Participation


Every Class

Qualitative Research Project:

Draft: Qualitative research design: 2 pages

September 15

Draft: Defend the use of qualitative method: 1 page

September 22

Draft: Develop an interview guide based on theory: 1-2 pages

October 6

List of participants you plan to interview (provide names, titles, and dates of interviews)


October 6

Conduct interviews

By October 27, earlier if possible

Submit transcribed interviews (must be audio or video recorded)

November 17

Oral Presentation


December 1

Practice Comp Questions


December 8

Final Paper on Qualitative Research Project


January 5


Qualitative Research Project:


Each student will conduct five or more interviews.  Interviewing is an important skill associated with qualitative research.  The learning goals from this project include:

  • Designing a qualitative research study
  • Defending the use of a qualitative method
  • Developing an interview guide, usually based on theory
  • Pro-actively finding appropriate participants to interview
  • Interviewing five or more people
  • Transcribing the interviews (interviews must be audio or video recorded)
  • Interpreting the interviews (cross interview analysis)
  • Communicating findings orally and in writing


There are several options that students may pursue.  Each student may work on their own or in pairs. The benefit of working in pairs is that you will be able to combine interviews and possibly develop a publishable piece of research.  Also, I find that coauthored projects are inherently more fun and more productive.


As this is a learning exercise, students should consider topics in which it will be easy to find participants.  Students might try to pick a topic in which current UMSL students, faculty, or staff could serve as subjects.  Alternatively, students may want to pick a topic in which subjects could be selected from prior work places with other established contacts.  Students should not pick a topic that requires interviews with five CEOs or CIOs unless students have access to C-level executives. 


Student(s) will select their own topic.  Students have at least three choices:


(a) Select a new and exciting topic that has never before been researched. This option is most appropriate for doctoral students who have already taken several Ph.D. seminars.  The benefit is that an original study could serve as a pilot for a dissertation and or lead to a publication.  The drawback is that this requires a significant amount of work under a tight deadline.  I will show you the various incarnations of research started in this course that resulted in the following presentation and publications:


Project for class: Iyer, V., and Rudramuniyaiah, P. (2006), “Investigations of Intentions to Leave Amongst IS Professionals Using Investment Model: A Qualitative Approach,” Class project, 109 pages.


Conference Paper: Lacity, M., Iyer, V., and Rudramuniyaiah, P. (2007), “Modeling Turnover Intentions of Indian IS Professionals,” Third International Conference on Outsourcing of Information Systems, Heidelberg. (papers published online)


Presentation: “Modeling Turnover Intentions of Indian IS Professionals,” Third International Conference on Outsourcing of Information Systems, Heidelberg, Germany 2007, May 30, 2007. (Written with Iyer, V., and Rudramuniyaiah, P.)


Book Chapter: Lacity, Rudramuniyaiah, P., and Iyer, V. (2008), “Understanding turnover among Indian IS Professionals,” in Offshore Outsourcing of IT Work (Lacity and Rottman), Palgrave, London, pp. 209-244.


Journal Publication: Lacity, M., Iyer, V., and Rudramuniyaiah, P. (2008), “Turnover Intentions of Indian IS Professionals,” Information Systems Frontiers, Special Issue on Outsourcing of IT Services, Vol. 10, 2, pp. 225-241.


(b) Find an existing study to replicate or slightly extend. The benefit of this approach is that new students can quickly conquer the learning curve.  This option is appropriate if you have a strong interest in a certain topic and would like to start building some experience with empirical research in a certain topic area. The drawback is that you will learn less about designing a new contribution to knowledge.


(c) Replicate Anand Jeyaraj’s research for individual adoption.  This might be the most appropriate option for new Ph.D. students who are not yet familiar with the academic literature.  I will provide, via Anand, the research questions, theoretical underpinnings, and sample interview guide.  The benefit of this approach is that students will have a good research project that can be completed in the allotted time. 


On the last day of class, each student will take 30 minutes to discuss their research method and findings using Power Point. 



At the start of class each week, I will administer a brief quiz on the assigned readings.  The purpose of the quiz is to give you that extra incentive to read all assignments prior to class.  The quizzes will assess basic understanding of the material, while the subsequent class discussion will provide more erudite analysis.



It is vital that students attend all sessions. Please make attendance your number one priority. This class will only be valuable if each and every one of us makes a commitment to be prepared.  That means that each student must have carefully read all the reading assignments prior to class.  We will assess the class participation grade based on our impression of your weekly preparation, meaningful insights, plentiful comments, intellectual curiosity, and enthusiasm.


In a rare circumstance that a student has to miss class (such as the birth of a child or severe illness), please contact me immediately.



One of my goals is to help students prepare for comprehensive exams.  The practice comprehensive exam will be in the same format as the IS comprehensive exam.  The practice exam will comprise two questions from the course.  You have two hours to answer the exam. I will find a computerized classroom so that you may use a computer.




Week 1: 8/25

Introduction to the Course 

Week 2: 9/1

Sociological Paradigms

Week 3: 9/8

Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods

Week 4: 9/15

The Case Study: Positivist Approaches in IS Research

Week 5: 9/22

The Case Study: Interpretive Approaches IS Research

Week 6: 9/29

Grounded Theory

Week 7: 10/6 

Action Research

Week 8: 10/13

Nature of Scientific Inquiry  

Week 9: 10/20

Beyond Either/Or

Week10: 10/27

Social Construction of Reality

Week 11: 10/30

Systems Theory

Week 12: 11/3

Theories of Change: Punctuated Equilibrium

Week 13: 11/10

Theory of Communicative Action

Week 14: 11/17

Structuration Theory



Week 15: 12/1

Oral Presentations 


Week 2: Sociological Paradigms


Does IS research follow a paradigm?  In this class, Burrell and Morgan's seminal summary of sociological paradigms inform the question.  The book's impact in varying fields such as sociology and business school disciplines was to compellingly argue for theoretical and methodological diversity in organizational studies. Critics, however, subsequently contested that research paradigms can be neatly organized into a Cartesian plane, and some have even called their framework "boring and misleading."


Assigned Readings:

  • BOOK: Burrell, G., and Morgan, G. (1979), Sociological Paradigms and Organizational Analysis, Heinemann Educational Books, New Hampshire, (reprinted 1988) 
  • Hirschheim, R., and Klein, H. (1989) "Four Paradigms of Information Systems Development," Communications of the ACM, Vol. 32, 10, pp. 1199-1216. 
  • Hirschheim, R., and Goles, T. (2000) "The Paradigm is Dead, the Paradigm is Dead….Long Live the Paradigm: The Legacy of Burrell and Morgan", OMEGA, Vol. 28, pp.249-268.
  • Deetz, S. (1996), "Describing differences in approaches to organization science: Rethinking Burrell and Morgan and their legacy," Organization Science, Linthicum; Vol. 7, 2, pp. 191-108. 


Week 3: Introduction to Qualitative Research


Major Research “Strategies”

Major Data Collection & Analysis Methods

Case Study


Ethnography, Participant Observation


Grounded Theory

Artifacts, Documents, Records

Action and Applied Research



Assigned Readings:

  • Denzin, N., and Lincoln, Y. (1994), “Introduction: Entering the Field of Qualitative Research,” in Handbook of Qualitative Research (Denzin and Lincoln, eds.), Sage, Thousand Oaks, pp. 1-17.

·         Myers, M. (1997), “Qualitative Research in Information Systems,”published on (announced in MIS Quarterly), Vol. 21, 2, pp. 241-242.

·         Orlikowski, W., and Baroudi, J. (1999), “Studying IT in Organizations: Research Approaches and Assumptions,” Information Systems Research, Vol. 2, 1, pp. 1-28.


Week 4: The Case Study Method: Positivist Approaches


Assigned Readings:

  • BOOK: Yin, R. (2003), Case Study Research: Design and Methods, Third Edition, Sage, Thousand Oaks.
  • Benbasat, I., Goldstein, D., and Mead, M. (1987), “The Case Research Strategy in Studies of Information Systems,” MIS Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 3, 369-386.
  • Dubé, L., and Paré, G. (2003) “Rigor in IS Positivist Case Research: Current Practices, Trends, and Recommendations, MIS Quarterly, Vol. 27, 4, pp. 597-635.


Week 5: The Case Study Method: Interpretive Approaches


Assigned Readings:

  • Walsham, G. (1995), "Interpretive Case Studies in IS Research: Nature and Method," European Journal of Information Systems, Vol. 4, 1, pp. 74-81.
  • Klein, H., and Meyers, M. (1999), “A Set of Principles for Evaluating Interpretive Field Studies in Information Systems,” MIS Quarterly, Vol.23, 1, pp. 67-94.
  • Lacity, M., and Janson, M. (1994), “Understanding Qualitative Data: A Framework of Text Analysis Methods,” Journal of Management Information Systems, Vol.11, 2, pp. 137-155.
  • Myers, M. (1999), “Investigating IS Research with Ethnographic Research,” Communications of the AIS, Vol. 2, 23, 1999, pp. 1-20.


Week 6: Grounded Theory

Assigned Readings:


  • BOOK: Glaser, B., and Strauss, A. (1999), The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research, Aldine de Gruyter, New York (first published in 1967)
  • Orlikowski, W. (1993),CASE tools as organizational change: Investigating incremental and radical changes in systems development,” MIS Quarterly, Vol. 17, 3, pp. 309-341.

·         Galal, G. (2001), “From contexts to constructs: the use of grounded theory in operationalising contingent process models,” European Journal of Information Systems, Vol. 10, 1, pp. 2-14.


Week 7: Action Research


Assigned Readings:

·         Susman, G. and Evered, R. (1978), "An Assessment of The Scientific Merits of Action Research," Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 23, 4, pp. 582-603.

·         Baskerville, R. and Myers, M. (2004), “Special Issue on Action Research in IS—Forward,” MIS Quarterly, 2004, Vol. 28, 3, pp. 329-335.

·         Iversen, J. (2004), “Managing Risk in Software Process Improvement: An Action Research Approach, MIS Quarterly, Vol. 28, 3, p. 395-433. 

·         Baskerville, R. and Wood-Harper, A.T. (1998), "Diversity in Information Systems Action Research Methods," European Journal of Information Systems, Vol. 7, 2, pp. 90-107.

·         Baskerville, R. (1999), "Investigating Information Systems with Action Research", Communications of The Association for Information Systems, Vol. 2, 19, pp. 1-32.


Week 8: Nature of Scientific Inquiry 


According to E.D. Klemke in his introduction to Introductory Readings in the Philosophy of Science, edited by Klemke, Hollinger, and Kline, 1988, the Philosophy of Science is "the attempt to understanding the meaning, method, and logical structure of science."  The Philosophy of Science studies the nature of matter (ontology), the nature of mind (philosophical psychology), and the relationship between matter and mind in the process of perception and knowledge creation (epistemology).   In these introductory readings, we will read that historically, science is not an incremental acquisition of knowledge, but rather a punctuated series of revolutions and evolutions of thought and wrought with politics.  Popper teaches that we can only falsify theories induced from observations, but never prove them.   Allen Lee reminds us why these lofty speculations are germane to our lives as IS researchers.


Assigned Readings:

  • BOOK: Kuhn, T. (1970), The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  • Popper, K. (1988), "Science: Conjectures and Refutations," Introductory Readings in the Philosophy of Science, edited by Klemke, Hollinger, and Kline, pp. 19-27.
  • BOOK: Lee, A. (2004), "Thinking about Social Theory and Philosophy for Information Systems," Social Theory and Philosophy for Information Systems, edited by John Mingers and Leslie Willcocks, Wiley, Chichester, pp. 1-26.


Week 9: Beyond Either/Or: Integrating Paradigms

·         Lee, A. S. (1991), "Integrating Positivist and Interpretive Approaches to Organizational Research," Organization Science, Vol. 2, 4, pp. 342-365.

·         Mason, R. (2001), “Not Either/Or: Research in Pasteur’s Quadrant,” Communications of the AIS, Vol, 6, Article 16.

  • Mingers, J. (2003), “The Paucity of Multimethod Research: A Review of the Information Systems Literature,” Information Systems Journal, Vol. 13, pp. 233-249.

·         Mingers, J. (2001), “Combining IS Research Methods: Towards a Pluralist Methodology,” Information Systems Research, Vol. 12, 3, pp. 240-259.


Week 10: The Social Construction of Reality


The back cover of Searle's book brilliantly captures the issue of the Social Construction of Reality:


"In the Social Construction of Reality, eminent philosopher John Searle examines the structure of social reality (or those portions of the world that are facts only by human agreement, such as money, marriage, property, and government) and contrasts it to a brute reality that is independent of human agreement. Searle shows that brute reality provides the indisputable foundation for all social reality, and that social reality, while real, is maintained by nothing more than custom and habit."


Assigned Readings:

  • BOOK: Searle, J. (1997), The Construction of Social Reality, The Free Press, New York.


Week 11: Systems Theory 


We will define systems, and look at properties of systems, including the rational and political nature of information and information systems.  I know this section's reading list is a bit ambitious, but we will start with Von Bertalanffy, generally recognized as the father of general systems theory.  Von Bertalanffy was a biologist and philosopher, who searched for the universal laws of organization.  His legacy is important because many believe social systems are like living organisms in the sense that both display wholeness, interact with their environment, exhibit strategies of self-maintenance, and experience cycles of birth, growth, maturity and death. 


Assigned Readings:

  • BOOK: Von Bertalanffy, L. (1986), General Systems Theory: Foundations, Development and Applications, New York, George Braziller.
  • Porra, J., Hirschheim, R., Parks, M. (2005), “The History of Texaco's Corporate Information Technology Function: A General Systems Theoretical Interpretation,” MIS Quarterly, Vol. 29, 4, pp. 721-746.


Week 12: Theories of Change: Punctuated Equilibrium


Two biologists, Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge, made significant contributions to their field, which have been subsequently adopted in ours.  Specifically, Gould and Eldredge noted that the fossil record shows that many species seem to "appear" quite rapidly and then remain stable during their existence.  Thus, rather than species gradually and incrementally changing over time, most change occurs when a population is separated and evolves into a new species in 10,000 to 50,000 generations (peanuts in terms of geologic time!).  Thus, evolution occurs in periods of punctuated change followed by periods of equilibrium.  In the social organizational context, researchers have adopted punctuated equilibrium as a basis for studying organizational change.


Assigned Readings:

  • Gould, S.J. and Eldredge, N. (1977), "Punctuated Equilibria: the Tempo and Mode of Evolution Revisited," Paleobiology, Vol. 3, pp. 115-151.
  • Gould, S.J. (1989), "Punctuated Equilibrium in Fact and Theory," Journal of Social Biological Structure," Vol.12, pp. 117-136.
  • Sabherwal, R., Hirschheim, R., and Goles, T. (2001), “The Dynamics of Alignment: A Punctuated Equilibrium Model”, Organization Science, Vol.12, 2, pp. 179-197. 
  • Gersick, C. (1991), "Revolutionary Change Theories: A Multilevel Exploration of the Punctuated Equilibrium Paradigm," The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 16, 1, pp. 10-37. 
  • Lichtenstein, B.M. (1995), "Evolution or transformation: A critique and alternative to punctuated equilibrium," Academy of Management Journal, pg.291-296.

Week 13: Communicative Action Theory

Habermas’ theory of communicative action extends the concept of a critical theory. Habermas' theory is oriented towards participation and emancipation. Thus, communicative action is germane to studying information systems (e.g., information systems design).


The assumption that is basic to communicative action is the idea that communication pervades all that individuals do – communication is a form of action. Habermas draws on the work of Austin who theorized that much of speech constitutes action. For example, if a minister during a wedding ceremony declares: “I hereby declare you man and wife” the persons involved are in fact married. This “speech act” is goes by the name of a “declarative.” Thus, to understand Habermas’ communicative theory we first have to understand Austin’s work. Drawing on Austin, Habermas proposes several action types – instrumental, strategic, normatively regulated, and communicative action. Communicative action requires that actors simultaneously satisfy four validity claims: 1) understandability of what has been said, 2) veracity of what has been said, 3) sincerity of intention, and 4) normative correctness of the speaker vis-à-vis the hearer.


Assigned Readings:


·         BOOK: Austin,J. L. (1975), How to Do Things With Words, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

·         BOOK: Habermas,J. (1984), The Theory of Communicative Action, Volume One: Reason and the Rationalization of Society, Boston, A: Beacon Press, Chapters I & II.

·         BOOK: Klein, H., and Huynh, M., "The Critical Social Theory of Jurgen Habermas and its Implications for IS Research," in Social Theory and Philosophy for Information Systems, edited by John Mingers and Leslie Willcocks, Wiley, Chichester, 2004,pp. 157-237.


Week 14: Structuration Theory 

What is the relationship among organizational structures, agents (such as IS developers, users, managers) and information technology?   Not an easy to question to answer.  Consider first the traditional and opposing views on the just the relationship between structure and agents (let alone throwing IT into the mix).  The Structuralist/Functionalist perspective, based on the legacy of Parsons, views that agents react to objective social structures; thus this view is strong on structure and weak on agent's freewill.  In contrast, Interpretive Sociologists view agents as completely free to act in their own subjective reality; thus this view is strong on agent's free will, but weak on structure.   An alternative to these opposing views is proposed in the works of Anthony Giddens.  He views agents and structures not as a dualism of independent phenomena, but as a duality.  "Structure" is created and recreated by the actions of knowledgeable agents.  Although Giddens did not address information technology in any detail, IS researchers have applied his ideas, with varying conformity to his original works, to the IT domain.  I've also included four articles that debate structuration theory in the accounting context (the Boland verses Scapens & Macintosh papers.)  This lively debate displays some of the challenges of importing  theories to new domains.


Assigned Readings:

·         BOOK: Giddens, A. (1986), The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration, University of California Press, 1986.

·         Jones, M., and Karsten, H., “Giddens's Structuration Theory and Information Systems Research”, MIS Quarterly, Vol. 31, 1, pp. 127-157.

·         Orlikowski, W., and Robey, D. (1991), "Information Technology and the Structuring of Organizations," Information Systems Research, Vol. 2, 2, pp. 143-169.

·         Orlikowski, W. (1992), "The Duality of Technology: Rethinking the Concept of Technology in Organizations," Organization Science, Vol. 3, 3, pp. 398-427.

Week 15: Oral Presentations


Week 16: In-class Exam