Research Traditions and Paradigms in IS and Organisations

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Susan Scott NAB 3.12 and Prof Chrisanthi Avgerou NAB 3.22


This course is compulsory on the MPhil/PhD in Management - Information Systems and Innovation. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Students from related PhD programmes who are interested in epistemological paradigms may be able to join the course with the teacher's permission.

Course content

The course introduces the foundations of social research and the key issues concerning the status of knowledge and the forms by which it is acquired. The course deals with the principal paradigms/traditions in the philosophy of science and epistemology and the answers they have provided to the basic questions concerning the status of knowledge claims and the forms by which valid knowledge claims can be made. The main focus of the course concerns the ways by which these key epistemological paradigms have been applied in the fields of Information Systems and Organization Studies.

There are three parts to the course: Part one (lectures1-5) confronts the main traditions within the philosophy of science (positivism, realism, constructivism) and relates these traditions to the development of types of knowledge claims and their relationship to reality. There are references to IS and examples of different stances adopted by major contributions in the IS field. Part two (lectures 5-10) deals with research design, with emphasis on case study research and the types of evidence such research designs (single and multiple case study designs) require. Key ideas are exemplified with reference to IS research articles. Part three (lectures 11-20) entails a more substantial encounter with the IS field through engagement by key texts in the history of the IS field and the epistemological positions, research designs and data collection methods and analysis such texts illustrate. This last part of the course involves several professors and associate professors of the ISIG Group.


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT.

This year, some or all of this teaching will  be delivered through a combination of seminars online and/or physically distanced settings

Indicative reading

  • Abbot, A. (2004). Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences. New York: Norton, pp.  3-40.
  • Barley, S. (1990). “The Alignment of Technology and Structure Through Roles and Networks,” Administrative Science Quarterly, 35/1: 61-103.
  • Bowker, G. C. and Star, S. L. (1999). Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press
  • Burton-Jones, A. (2014). “What Have we Learned from the Smart Machine?” Information and Organization, (24:2): 71-105.
  • Eisenhardt, K. M. 1989. “Building theories from Case Study Research,” Academy of Management Review (14:4), pp. 532-550.
  • Faulkner, P. and Runde, J. (2013). “Technological Objects, Social Positions, and the Transformational Model of Social Activity”, MIS Quarterly, 37/3: 803-818.
  • Morgan, G. (1981). “Paradigms, Metaphors and Puzzle Solving in Organization Theory”, Administrative Science Quarterly, vol. 25(4): 605–622.
  • Sayer, A. (2001). Realism and the Social Sciences. London: Sage
  • Zuboff, S. (1988). In the Age of the Smart Machine. New York: Basic Books.


Essay (100%, 7000 words) in the LT.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Management

Total students 2019/20: Unavailable

Average class size 2019/20: Unavailable

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication