The digital is different: Emergence and relationality in critical realist research
Research Seminar Series features, Alexander Moltubakk Kempton, Associate Professor of Information Systems at the Department of Informatics and the HISP Centre at the University of Oslo.
When analyzing empirical phenomena, the implicit or explicit assumptions we have of relationality guide what we take as the primary units of analysis and how we study them. This paper investigates and expands on the notion of relationality and relational explanations in the Critical Realist (CR) paradigm of Information Systems (IS) research. As digital technologies are becoming increasingly adaptive to the social and socio-technical structures they are embedded in, it is necessary to expand the field's conceptual tools in its study of digital phenomena. Therefore, to explain why the digital seems more tightly coupled to social phenomena than other types of technologies, the concept of transformational emergence is introduced. The key argument is that the malleability of digital entities entails that they are disposed to transform by emergence, which is key to understanding the constitutive relationality between the social and the technical in contemporary digital phenomena. This has fundamental implications for CR-based theories in the IS field, most notably Affordance theory and Representation theory.