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Social Informatics: A Rubric With An Identity Crisis?

Chair: Blaise Cronin (Indiana University) Panelists: David Blair, University of Michigan; Ron Day, Wayne State; Elisabeth Davenport, Napier University; Kristin Eschenfelder, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Presented at ASIST 2004 Annual Meeting; "Managing and Enhancing Information: Cultures and Conflicts" (ASIST AM 04), Providence, Rhode Island, November 13 - 18, 2004


"A serviceable working conception of social informatics is that it identifies a body of research that examines the social aspects of computerization. A more formal definition is “the interdisciplinary study of the design, uses and consequences of information technologies that takes into account their interaction with institutional and cultural contexts” (Kling, 1999).

In recent years ARIST has published a number of chapters dealing either explicitly (e.g., Bishop & Star; Sawyer & Eschenfelder) or implicitly (e.g., Kling; Davenport & Hall) with social informatics. As schools and programs of informatics erupt like acne across the face of higher education in the U.S. and elsewhere, this is an opportune moment to pause and examine the assumptions, approaches and developments connoted by the portmanteau term ‘social informatics,’ and to assess the utility of the construct. Since ARIST has been a showcase for seminal writings on the subject, and we have invited a number of our authors to critically analyze the construct and speculate on the future of social informatics as domain or proto-movement within (and beyond) academia. The questions below (some raised by our panellists in their writings) are intended to provoke lively debate on the merits and limitations of the term so effectively popularized by the late Rob Kling, who founded and directed the Center for Social informatics at Indiana University.

• Does Rob Kling’s definition of social informatics (see above) work? • What exactly is meant by a ‘social informatics perspective’? • What is not social informatics? • Is there a convincing body of research findings associated with social informatics? • Does social informatics differ from organizational informatics? • What is ‘social informatics-like research,’ and how does it differ from the real thing? • Is social informatics merely a synonym for socio-technical systems analysis and design? • What is the status of culture in social informatics research? • How can the social informatics agenda be mobilized? • Can a social informatics perspective help systems designer and analysts deal with emergence and the unintended, second-order effects of technology? • Can one point to an institutionalized, or gradually institutionalizing, field by the name of social informatics? • What do we know about the ‘intellectual geography’ of social informatics research and theorizing?

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