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Abstract

Since its inception, North American information systems (IS) research has relied on a broad and varied collection of theories. The core of this theoretical landscape is an important determinant of the IS research community’s identity, and, as such, researchers have discussed it extensively in recent years. Nevertheless, we know few concrete facts about the composition, consistency, or evolution of this theoretical core over time. Using a set of 318 theories in conjunction with n-gram analyses, we address these issues empirically by computationally analyzing the complete text of every research paper published in three leading North American IS journals over a 24-year period. In examining these 2,215 papers and more than 3.54 billion n-gram records, we identify the theories that constitute the overall core of North American IS research and provide insights into the evolution of that core. We further identify and quantify the nature of theoretical pluralism in North American IS research and examine the evolution of the theoretical density of IS research studies over time. Finally, our results shed light on the patterns of theory co-occurrence in North American IS research studies and demonstrate how such information can facilitate increasingly imperative efforts aimed at theory consolidation and generalization.

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