Renewing Literature Reviews in MIS Research? A Critical Realist Approach
55 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2014
Date Written: March 19, 2014
Literature Reviews (LR) are particularly useful for demonstrating the coherence and cumulativeness (or lack thereof) of MIS research and for developing avenues for further research. Most top-tier journals now publish LRs, and many have even begun devoting specific sections to them. Our starting point is that LRs are not epistemologically neutral, and three approaches commonly underlie literature reviews: positivism (identifying the concepts, theories and models closest to the phenomenon that is being explained); interpretivism (identifying the various concepts and theories expressed by various actors and grouping them into multiple perspectives); and critical approaches (identifying both the underlying assumptions and conditions of the production of theories and their effects). We suggest a fourth approach to LRs underpinned by the philosophy of critical realism (CR) and argue that it can enable the (re)interpretation of existing literature through the identification of underlying generative mechanisms. These generative mechanisms provide a common denominator to enable the synthesis of concepts and theories in new ways, helping to bridge previously thought to be incompatible theories, and contributing to a more cumulative view of academic knowledge. We illustrate the value of a CR-based literature through its application to the topic of IT Strategic Value in the MIS and strategic management literature; we show how the identification of four generative mechanisms and three core agencies can support a more integrated view of IT Strategic Value. We then discuss the implications of the use of generative mechanisms and propose guidelines from a CR perspective for carrying out literature reviews.
Keywords: Literature review; Information Technology (IT); critical realism; strategic value; generative mechanism
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