Microemancipatory practicies in information system development


The paper revisits the notion of emancipation in Information System Development (ISD) that seems to

have lost a battle against functionalist and managerialist approaches dominant in information system

(IS) research and practice. Unlike functionalist and managerialist views, the emancipatory view of

ISD, informed by Critical Theory, considers ISD as a site of organizational innovation, self-reflection

and a struggle for humanization of work and liberation from different forms of domination. Critics of

emancipatory project in IS and management literature question the very possibility of the

emancipation and deplore its intellectualism, naivety and negativism. The purpose of this paper is to

re-consider the notion of emancipatory ISD in the face of these criticisms and develop a more refined

and nuanced view of micro-emancipation in ISD that is meaningful in practice. Informed by Alvesson

and Willmott (1992, 1996) we explore, question, redefine and ground the micro-emancipatory ISD

processes based on a longitudinal (15 year) study of a retail company. Our analysis and critical

reflection demonstrate that micro-emancipatory ISD processes have real substance for the people

involved, and that their meanings are neither fixed nor universal, but rather local, emergent,

uncertain, and sometimes contradictory. This paper contributes an empirically grounded and

practically relevant reconceptualization of micro-emancipatory ISD projects which reveals both its

benefits and risks for all involved.

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