Power relations inscribed in the enactment of systems development methods

Jan 5th, 2021 | By | Category: RSS Feed


Issues of power are often neglected in information systems (IS) studies and under?theorised in IS research. Systems development methods (SDMs) are commonly used in the IT industry to coordinate the activities between developers and clients. The role of power in the relationship between clients and systems developers remains an important topic of research in information systems development (ISD). Yet, despite the importance of understanding this relationship better, there has only been a limited number of studies exploring the role that an SDM can play in influencing this relationship. What is not widely acknowledged or researched is how different forms of power are inscribed in and enacted through an SDM. The aim of this paper is to advance our understanding of different forms of power—here, obtrusive and unobtrusive power—to show how ISD concepts provide structures during the enactment of an SDM and thereby influence relationships between developers and clients. We present qualitative results from an exploratory case study within an IT division of a large international bank and interpret the results using Clegg’s (1989) circuits of power (CoP). Our analysis shows that developers feel disempowered in relation to the client, with developers playing a cooperative but submissive role. Prior SDM enactment studies have either not encountered or not recognised cases where obtrusive and unobtrusive forms of power inscribed within the SDM directly determine the relationship between developers and the client. Our results are presented as a set of propositions explaining how obtrusive and unobtrusive power is inscribed in the SDM and the effect such inscription has on the enactment of the SDM.


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