Developing theories in the IS discipline

Schedule and location

Tue June 10th half day, The Arkadia Building Aalto University School of Business (room E-107)

Wed June 11th full day, The Arkadia Building Aalto University School of Business (room E-107)


Closing date June 3rd.


Professor Suprateek Sarker,  University of Virginia, USA


 Professor Matti Rossi Aalto University


A recent editorial in the MIS Quarterly (2013) noted that it is “widely acknowledged that ‘if research consisted only of heaps of information, it would be no more than a chaotic bundle of statements, impossible to decipher or evaluate or apply to any meaningful purpose’ (Harrington 2005, p. 5). Consequently, most editors of top journals emphasize the need for theory in manuscripts, and see lack of theory as a key reason for rejecting a manuscript” (Sarker, Xiao, and Beaulieu 2013).
Despite the recognition of the importance of theory, much confusion remains regarding: a) what theory really means: b) what the desirable attributes of theory are; and c) how good theory many be generated, specifically, in the IS discipline. In this short course, we will try to gain some understanding on:
• The different perspectives on theory
• Possible criteria for assessing theory
• Some approaches to developing good theory
Course participants will also critically assess some attempts to theorize about IS phenomenon that are published in leading outlets.
Finally, course participants will have the opportunity to reflect on their own Ph.D. work so as to discover how the thesis could offer significant theoretical contributions to the discipline.

Detailed Program

Day 1

12.00 – 12.30 Introduction to the course
12.30 – 13.30 What is theory? (Articles 1, 2, 3, and 4)
13.30 - 13.45 Break
13.45 – 14.45 What are desirable attributes of theory? (Articles 5 and 6)
14.45 – 15.00 Break
15.00 – 16.00 How can we develop theory? (Articles 7, 8, 9, and 10)

Day 2

09.00 – 10.15 An IS Perspective to Theory and Theorizing (Articles 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16)
10.15 – 10.30 Break
10.30 – 12.00 Technology Considerations in the Theories (Articles 17, 18, and 19)
12.00 – 13.00 Lunch
13.00 – 14.45 Presentation by students of their analysis of published papers (Articles 20, 21, 22, and 23)
14.45 – 15.00 break
15.00 – 16.00 Presentation of remaining articles (24, 25, 26, 27, and 28), discussion, and wrap up.


Day 1: What is theory, what are some of the desirable characteristics, how to develop theories?

1) Sutton, R. I., and Staw, B. M. 1995. “What Theory Is Not,” Administrative Science Quarterly (40), pp. 371-384.
2) Weick, K.E. (1995). "What Theory is Not, Theorizing Is," Administrative Science Quarterly, 40(3), 385-390.
3) Feldman, D.C. 2004. “Editorial: What are we talking about when we talk about theory?” Journal of Management (30:5), pp. 565-567.
4) Van Maanen, J. 1995. “Style as Theory,” Organization Science (6:1), pp. 133-143.
5) Corley, K. G. and D. A Gioia. 2011. “Building theory about theory: what constitutes a theoretical contribution,” Academy of Management Review (36:10), pp. 12-32.
6) Bacharach, S.B. 1989. “Organizational theories: Some criteria for evaluation,” Academy of Management Review (144), pp. 496-515.
7) Eisenhardt, K. M. and Graebner, M. E. 2007. “Theory Building from Cases: Opportunities and Challenges,” Academy of Management Journal (50: 1), pp. 25-32.
8) Pentland, B. 1999 “Building Process Theory with Narrative: from Description to Explanation,” Academy of Management Review (24:4), pp. 711-724.
9) Lepine, J. A. and King, W. A. (2010) “Developing Novel Theoretical Insight from Reviews of Existing Theory and Research,” Academy of Management Review (35:4), pp. 506-509.
10) Smith, K. G. and Hitt, M. A. “Learning How to Develop Theories from the Masters,” In Great Minds in Management: The Process of Theory Development, K. G. Smith and M. A. Hitt (eds.), New York, NY: Oxford University Press 2005, pp. 572-588.

Day 2 (Morning Session): Tailoring the discussion for the IS discipline

11) Gregor, S. 2006. “The Nature of Theory in Information Systems,” MIS Quarterly (30:3), pp. 611-642.
12) Straub, D. 2012. “Does MIS Have Native Theories?” MIS Quarterly (36: 2), iii-xii. Available at:
13) Rivard, S. 2014. “The Ions of Theory Construction,” MIS Quarterly (38:2), pp. iii-xii. Available at:
14) Weber, R. 2012. “Evaluating and Developing Theories in the Information Systems Discipline,” Journal of the Association for Information Systems (13: 1), pp. 1-30. Available at:
15) Jones, D. and Gregor, S. 2007. “The Anatomy of a Design Theory,” Journal of the Association of Information Systems (8:5), pp. 312-335. Available at:
16) Tan, B. C.Y., Srinivasan, A., Lyytinen, K., and Grover, V. 2008. "Contributing to Rigorous and Forward Thinking Explanatory Theory," Journal of the Association for Information Systems: Vol. 9: Iss. 2, Article 5. Available at:
17) Leonardi, P. M. “Materiality, Sociomateriality, and Socio-Technical Systems: What Do These Terms Mean? How Are They Different? Do We Need Them,” In Materiality and Organizing: Social Interaction in a Technological World, P. M. Leonardi, B. A. Nardi, and J. Kallinikos (eds.), Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, pp. 25-48.
18) Leonardi, P. M., and Barley, S. R. 2008. “Materiality and Change: Challenges to Building Better Theory about Technology and Organizing,” Information and Organization (18:3), pp. 159-176.
19) Robey, D., Anderson, C., and Raymond, B. 2013. "Information Technology, Materiality, and Organizational Change: A Professional Odyssey," Journal of the Association for Information Systems (14:7), Article 1. Available at:

Day 2 (Afternoon Session): Analysis and Presentation by Students

20) Leidner, D. and Kayworth, T. “A Review of Culture in Information Systems Research: Toward a Theory of Information Technology Culture Conflict,” MIS Quarterly (30:2), pp. 357-399.
21) Griffith, T. L., Sawyer, J.E., and Neale, M.A. (2003), “Virtualness and knowledge in teams: Managing the love triangle of organizations, individuals, and information technology,” MIS Quarterly, 27(2), 265-287.
22) Howison, J. and Crowston, K. 2014. "Collaboration Through Open Superposition: A Theory of the Open Source Way," MIS Quarterly, (38: 1) pp.29-50.
23) Sarker, S. and Sahay, S. 2003 "Understanding Virtual Team Development: An Interpretive Study," Journal of the Association for Information Systems (4: 1), Article 1.
Available at:
24) Markus, M. L. and Silver, M. S. 2008 "A Foundation for the Study of IT Effects: A New Look at DeSanctis and Poole’s Concepts of Structural Features and Spirit," Journal of the Association for Information Systems (9: 10), Article 5. Available at:
25) Dennis, A. R., Fuller, R. M., and Valacich, J. S. 2008. “Media, Tasks, and Communication Processes: A Theory of Media Synchronicity,” MIS Quarterly (32:3), pp. 575-600.
26) Soh, C. and Markus, M. L. "How IT Creates Business Value: A Process Theory Synthesis" (1995). ICIS 1995 Proceedings. Paper 4.
27) Gregory, R., Beck, R., and Keil, M. 2013. "Control Balancing in Information Systems Development Offshoring Projects," MIS Quarterly, (37: 4) pp.1211-1232.
28) Xiao, B., and Benbasat, I. 2011. “Product-Related Deception in E-Commerce: A Theoretical Perspective,” MIS Quarterly (35:1), pp. 169-195.

Credit points   

Doctoral students participating in the seminar can obtain 1,5 credit points. This requires participating on both days and completing the assignments given at the seminar.

Registration fee

This seminar is free-of-charge for member organization's staff and their PhD students. For others the participation fee is 750 €. The participation fee includes access to the event and the event materials. Lunch and dinner are not included.