Diffusion – or delusion? Challenging an IS research tradition

Tom McMaster (Information Systems Institute, University of Salford, Salford, UK)
David Wastell (Information Systems Division, Nottingham University Business School, Nottingham, UK)

Information Technology & People

ISSN: 0959-3845

Publication date: 1 December 2005

Abstract

Purpose

This paper seeks to critique the notion of diffusionism.

Design/methodology/approach

The notion of diffusionism provides a general way of understanding innovation and human progress. It is pervasive within IS research and practice. Generically, diffusionism denotes an asymmetrical view of innovation as originating exclusively in “progressive” centres, from which it spreads through an essentially passive recipient community. This model is pernicious, as it privileges an élite few over the majority, with the innovator/imitator dichotomy presented as natural, moral and inevitable. This paper analyses the notion of diffusionism in information systems (IS).

Findings

The failure to find any empirical support for diffusionism reveals both its mythical character and its ideological rationale in lending moral legitimacy to colonialistic projects. Empirical examples demonstrate both the ubiquity of the diffusionist mindset in IS research and practice, and its linkage to pseudo‐colonial activities in the home domain.

Originality/value

The paper concludes by arguing for a more critical approach within IS research on innovation, the use of richer, process‐based theories, and greater partnership with practitioners in order to close the research/practice gap.

Keywords

Citation

McMaster, T. and Wastell, D. (2005), "Diffusion – or delusion? Challenging an IS research tradition", Information Technology & People, Vol. 18 No. 4, pp. 383-404. https://doi.org/10.1108/09593840510633851

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Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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