Towards Dissolution of the IS Research Debate: from polarisation to polarity

Debra Howcroft, [Unknown] D., B. Fitzgerald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The debate between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ research approaches continues in the IS field, but with little prospect of resolution. The debate is typically characterized by tendentious arguments as advocates from each approach offer a somewhat one-sided condemnation of the counterpart from the inimical research tradition. This paper begins by relating two fictitious tales which serve to highlight the futility of research conducted at the extremity of each research approach. The dichotomies which characterize these rival factions are also summarized. The debate is then framed in terms of the polarization problem whereby IS researchers are divided geographically and paradigmatically into ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ camps. A variety of different strategies have been proposed for resolving the debate and these are discussed in detail. They are grouped into four categories, referred to as supremacism, isolationism, integration, and pluralism. Finally, the paper contends that the debate cannot be resolved, and offers the metaphor of magnetic polarity as a means of reflecting this. The paper concludes by arguing that it would be more appropriate to recast the debate at a macro level in order to accommodate different research agenda and recognize the strengths within each tradition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-326
JournalJournal of Information Technology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1998


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