Understanding the Why, What, and How of Theories in IS Research
Communications of the Association for Information Systems
Researchers have emphasized theory's pivotal importance in the information systems (IS) discipline since its inception. As in many science disciplines, IS scholars' ability to understand and contribute to theory is an important qualification in research practice. As a discipline, we require solid foundations for why we engage with theory, what theory is for us, and how we work with theory. We synthesize and reflect on the debates on theories and theorizing in the IS discipline. In doing so, we
... nform (particularly new) authors about the current state of the IS discipline's debate on theory and theorizing and help them identify opportunities in theorizing to put theory to work. We do not intend to advocate or cement that status quo we portray but rather, through informing the community about it, to support early efforts to further develop and move beyond the current state of the debate on theory and theorizing in IS research. them in a storyline that connects them. In doing so, we focus on helping others to identify relevant papers and, thereby, encourage them to read (and question) them. Based on our discussion below, we hope that theorists and aspiring theorists will develop a clear view of theory and theorizing and that we address some of the conceptual challenges researchers face. In doing so, we support our discipline's (re-) exploration of theory and theorizing and research practice. We provide readers with a starting point for participating in these exciting discussions. We transposed Whetten's (1989) seminal thoughts on the why, what, and how in theories and structure our paper by walking readers through the why, what, and how of theory and theorizing in IS research. Following this logic, in Section 2, we start with the why for theoretical work. In Section 3, we present basic conceptual foundations of theory. In Section 4, we discuss different modes and strategies of theorizing. In Section 5, we reflect on theory's role for IS research and various opportunities and add a perspective on the now what to Whetten's thoughts. In Section 6, we summarize and provide concluding thoughts.