Management Information Systems Quarterly


It has been argued that the theory borrowing practices in IS research have become workmanlike—appropriate and effective, but lacking innovation. This concern is particularly salient at a time when digital phenomena are profoundly transforming society. Therefore, it is legitimate to ask: Are our theory borrowing practices hampering our ability to grapple with revolutionary developments in IS, and if so, what can be done? Through an investigation of the field’s borrowing of transaction cost economics theory, we find extant IS research largely (1) borrows for theory testing within the IS context, (2) develops models that uninspiringly reflect the borrowed theory, and (3) treats the IS as an exogenous actor. In this article, we propose an alternative approach to theory borrowing, inspired by conceptual blending theory. Our approach focuses on the structural nature of IS phenomena and borrowed theories. Such a structure-based approach can reveal correspondence between IS phenomena and unexpected reference theories while also highlighting discrepancies that serve as an opportunity for novel integrations of an information system into the reference theory. We contend that this approach can infuse flexibility into our theory borrowing practices in ways that will increase our capacity for developing innovative explanations of emerging phenomena.