Re-conceptualising failure: Social shaping meets IS research

Melanie Wilson, Debra Howcroft

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The aim of this paper is to illustrate the interplay of the social studies of technology (SST) approach with IS research to further our conceptualisation of failure. It is intended that this cross-fertilisation of disciplinary backgrounds will produce a critique of traditional conceptions of information technology and help to further our understanding of the IS development, implementation and use process. We begin by providing a commentary on the IS failure literature, highlighting the variety of descriptions and noting the lack of consensus regarding how success/failure is constituted. We then go on to delineate the contribution of the SST approach to enlightening our study of failure, since it has as its core concern an understanding of the dynamics of the society technology relationship. This approach is applied to a case study where the intention is to demonstrate the moving line between success and failure among different groups as well as over different periods of time. The study shows how the success/failure factors can be equally applied to construct an account as and when required, depending upon how legitimacy is ascribed to different 'voices'. The SST themes are then revisited to enable a deconstruction of the stages that were undertaken before failure was finally declared. Finally, conclusions are drawn on the contribution of SST for aiding our understanding of how failures occur within their social and organisational context. European Journal of Information Systems (2002) 11.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)236-250
Number of pages14
JournalEuropean Journal of Information Systems
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2002


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