The Rationality Framework for a Critical Study of Information Systems

  • Dubravka Cecez-Kecmanovic
  • Marius Janson
  • Ann Brown


This paper focuses on the relationship between information systems (IS) and organizational processes from the perspective of the rationality of actors and their actions. The terms rational and rationality that are used in theoretical writings and in everyday life denote a multiplicity of meanings. The idea of reason has been connected with the disposition of actors to give rational grounds for or logical explanations of their beliefs and actions. Similarly, the actions by which actors achieve desired ends are regarded as rational. Furthermore, organizational processes that embody and are governed by rational actions are considered rational. More generally, an increase in the rationality that characterizes modern organizations and society is called rationalization. This paper explores the relationship between IS and organizations within the light of the progressive rationalization of organizational processes.


Information System Rationality Framework Rationality Type Fresh Food Communicative Rationality 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adele, B., Martens, A., Tordeur, G., Van der Smissen, B. and Muelenaer, G. (1984) Dossier Colruyt (EPO, Antwerp).Google Scholar
  2. Adorno, T.W. and Horkheimer, M. (1944) Dialectic of Enlightenment (Herder and Herder, New York) (translated by J. Cumming).Google Scholar
  3. Ang, J. and Pavry, F. (1994) A survey and critique of the impacts of information technology. International Journal of Information Management, 14, 122–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Attewell, P. and Rule, J. (1984) Computing and organisations: what we know and what we don’t know. Communications of the ACM, 27, 1184–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Avison, D.E. and Myers, M.D. (1995) Information systems and anthropology: an anthropological perspective on IT and organisational culture. Information Technology and People, 8, 43–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bjorn-Andersen, N. and Eason, K. (1980) Myths and realities of information systems contributing to organisational rationality. In Human Choice and Computers, Mowshowitz, A. (ed.) (North Holland, Amsterdam), pp. 92–110.Google Scholar
  7. Boland, R. (1985) Phenomenology: a preferred approach to research on information systems. In Research Methods in Information Systems, Mumford, E., Hirschheim, R., Fitzgerald, G. and Wood-Harper, A.T. (eds) (North Holland, Amsterdam), pp. 193–203.Google Scholar
  8. Brubaker, R. (1987) The Limits of Rationality — An Essay on the Social and Moral Thought of Max Weber (Routledge, London).Google Scholar
  9. Cecez-Kecmanovic, D. (2001) Doing critical IS research: the question of methodology. In Qualitative Research in Information Systems: Issues and Trends, Trauth, E. (ed.) (Idea Group Publishing, Hershey, PA), pp. 142–63.Google Scholar
  10. Cecez-Kecmanovic, D. and Janson, M. (1999) Communicative action theory: an approach to understanding the application of information systems. In Proceedings of the Tenth Australasian Conference on Information Systems ACIS’99, Wellington, New Zealand, pp. 183–95.Google Scholar
  11. Colruyt, J. (1984) What is different at Colruyt? In There are no Gentlemen Here, Sir, Penneman, T. (ed.) (Druco, Halle) (in Flemish), pp. 53–6.Google Scholar
  12. DeSanctis, G. and Poole, M.S. (1994) Capturing the complexity of advance technology use: adaptive structuration theory. Organization Science, 5(2), 121–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Galliers, R.D. and Baets, W.R.J. (1998) Information Technology and Organisational Transformation (John Wiley & Sons, Chichester).Google Scholar
  14. Gephart Jr, R.P., Boje, D.M. and Thatchenkery, T.J. (1996) Postmodern management and the coming crises of organisational analysis. In Postmodern Management and Organization Theory, Boje, D.M., Gephart Jr, R.P. and Thatchenkery, T.J. (ed.) (Sage, London), pp. 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gopal, A. and Prasad, P. (2000) Understanding GDSS in symbolic context: shifting the focus from technology to interaction. MIS Quarterly, 24(3), 509–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Habermas, J. (1971) Knowledge and Human Interests (Beacon Press, Boston, MA).Google Scholar
  17. Habermas, J. (1984) The Theory of Communicative Action — Reason and the Rationalisation of Society, Vol. I (Beacon Press, Boston, MA).Google Scholar
  18. Habermas, J. (1987) The Theory of Communicative Action — The Critique of Functionalist Reason, Vol II (Beacon Press, Boston, MA).Google Scholar
  19. Habermas, J. (1990) Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action (The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA).Google Scholar
  20. Habermas, J. (1993) The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA).Google Scholar
  21. Hirschheim, R., Klain, H. and Lyytinen, L. (1996) Exploring the intellectual structures of information systems development: a social action theoretic analysis. Accounting, Management and Information Technology, 6(1/2), 1–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Janson, M., Brown, A. and Taillieu, T. (1997a) Colruyt: an organization committed to communication. Information Systems Journal, 7, 175–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Janson, M., Guimaraes, T., Brown, A. and Taillieu, T. (1997b) Exploring a chairman of the board’s construction of organisational reality: the Colruyt case. In Information Systems and Qualitative Research, Lee, A., Liebenau, J. and Degross, J.I. (eds) (IFIP, Chapman & Hall, London), pp. 303–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Klein, H.K. (1999) Knowledge and methods in IS research: from beginnings to the future. In New Information Technologies in Organization Processes — Field Studies and Theoretical Reflections on the Future of Work, Ngwenyama, O., Introna, L., Myers, M.D. and DeGross, J.I. (eds) (IFIP, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Boston), pp. 13–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Klein, H. and Alvarez, R. (1987) The collective resource approach to systems design. In Computers and Democracy: A Scandinavian Challenge, Bjerknes, G., Ehn, P. and King, M. (eds) (Avery, Brookfield, VT), pp. 97–116.Google Scholar
  26. Klein, H.K. and Hirschheim, R. (1991) Rationality concepts in information system development methodologies. Accounting, Management and Information Technology, 1(2), 157–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Koningsveld, H. and Mertens, J. (1992) Communicatief and Strategisch Handelen (Muiderberg, Coutinho, The Netherlands) (in Dutch).Google Scholar
  28. Lyytinen, K. (1992) Information systems and critical theory. In Critical Management Studies, Alvesson, M. and Willmott, H. (eds) (Sage, London), pp. 159–80.Google Scholar
  29. Lyytinen, K. and Hirschheim, R. (1988) Information systems as rational discourse: an application of Habermas’s theory of communicative action. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 4(1/2), 19–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lyytinen, K. and Klein, H.K. (1985) The critical theory of Jurgen Habermas as a basis for a theory of information systems. In Research Methods in Information Systems, Mumford, E., Hirschheim, R., Fitzgerald, G. and Wood-Harper, A.T. (eds) (North Holland, Amsterdam), pp. 219–36.Google Scholar
  31. Myers, M.D. and Young, L.W. (1997) Hidden agendas, power and managerial assumptions in information systems development. Information Technology & People, 10(3), 224–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ngwenyama, O.K. (1991) The critical social theory approach to information systems: problems and challenges. In Information Systems Research: Contemporary Approaches and Emergent Traditions, Nissen, H.E., Klein, H.K. and Hirschheim, R. (eds) (Elsevier Science Publishers, New York), pp. 267–80.Google Scholar
  33. Orlikowski, W.J. and Robey, D. (1991) Information technology and the structuring of organizations. Information Systems Research, 2(2), 143–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Robey, D. and Bourdeau, M.-C. (1999) Accounting for contradictory organisational consequences of information technology: theoretical directions and methodology implications. Information Systems Research, 10(2), 167–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Walsham, G. (1993) Interpreting Information Systems in Organisations (Wiley, Chicester).Google Scholar
  36. Walsham, G. (1995) The emergence of interpretivism in IS research. Information Systems Research, 6(4), 376–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Weber, M. (1958) The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism (Scribner’s, New York) (translated by T. Parsons).Google Scholar
  38. Weber, M. (1964) Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, Studienausgabe, 4th edn, Winckelmann, J. (ed.) (Kiepenheurer & Witsch, Koln) (in German).Google Scholar
  39. Weber, M. (1978) Economy and Society, Roth, G. and Wittich, C. (eds) (University of California Press, Berkeley, CA).Google Scholar
  40. Wellmer, A. (1994) Reason, Utopia, and the dialectic of enlightenment. In Habermas and Modernity, Bernstein, J.R. (ed.) (The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA), pp. 35–66.Google Scholar
  41. White, S. (1988) The Recent Work of Jürgen Habermas: Reason, Justice, and Modernity (Cambridge University Press, New York, NY).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wilson, F.A. (1997) The truth is out there: the search for emancipatory principles in information systems design. Information, Technology and People, 10(3), 187–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Association for Information Technology Trust 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dubravka Cecez-Kecmanovic
    • 1
  • Marius Janson
    • 2
  • Ann Brown
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Information Systems, Technology and Management, Faculty of Commerce and EconomicsUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Information SystemsUniversity of Missouri-St. LouisUSA
  3. 3.Faculty of Management, Cass Business School, Frobisher CrescentCity UniversityLondonUK

Personalised recommendations