Genre Analysis in Information Systems Research

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

In this paper we examine the information systems (IS) literature surrounding the use of genre analysis. We look at why IS researchers use genre analysis, the insights that using genre analysis brings forth, and the resulting impact the research has. We also show that genre analysis is successfully providing an identity for the IS discipline. We use this review to provide insight into new avenues that IS researchers might explore using genre analysis, as well as show how practitioners may be able to benefit from its use.

INTRODUCTION

Introduced in 1976, bulletin board systems still abound on the Internet (Yahoo Groups alone has over 2,000,000 such boards operating (groups.yahoo.com)) and provide a way for people to communicate. Lately, new ways to communicate such as Internet messaging (IM) over the Internet and text messaging using cell phones have arisen. How can we understand the types of communication taking place using these widely disparate systems?

Such an understanding is important as more and more work becomes a matter of electronic information exchange (Orlikowski and Yates, 1994). Genre analysis, first introduced to the field of IS research by Yates and Orlikowski (1992), provides a powerful tool to help understand the communication practices occurring within different IT and non-IT supported systems (although our present focus will of course be on IT-supported systems). In particular, genre analysis is useful in examining how a community communicates. Such interpersonal communication creates structures that then affect what else gets said and done and by whom (Weick, 1979), and indeed, without it "there would be no organizing or organization" (Orlikowski and Yates, 1994).

How one defines community is not of great import; it could be a small group of workers in an R&D lab, or a widely dispersed (both geographically and based on depth of interest) set of owners of Honda Odysseys. What matters is that genres of communication are "socially recognized types of communicative actions - such as memos, meetings, expense forms, training seminars - that are habitually enacted by members of the community to realize particular social purposes" (Yates and Orlikowski, 1992). In an organizational context, such purposes typically include the completing of work, but may also extend to the formation of social relationships, which can have a significant effect on the quality of work (Firth, 2003). Of equal importance, these technologically mediated organizational discourses play an important part in the institutionalization of organizational roles, which later enable and constrain organizational actors (Hasselbladh and Kallinikos 2000).

In this paper we will first lay out the basic concepts of genre and genre analysis. We then examine how genre analysis has been used in the IS literature. This will focus on why genre analysis was used, and the impact using genre analysis has had on our understanding of systems and communication. To show that genre analysis is not an irrelevant research tool but is indeed helping to provide an identity for the IS discipline, we will use the principles described by Benbasat and Zmud (2003). Finally we will use our review to highlight directions for future research.

BASIC CONCEPTS

A genre within a community serves as an organizing structure that shapes the ongoing communicative actions of community members through their use of it (Orlikowski and Yates, 1994). It is this ability to shape interaction amongst individuals that gives management as well as the users of a community the ability to use genres "both as instruments and outcomes of organizational power and politics" (Yates and Orlikowski, 1992). Each genre is differentiated from another as a typified communicative action by having both a socially recognized communicative purpose, and a common characteristic of form (Yates and Orlikowski 1992). A communicative purpose is one that is relevant to the community within which it is used. …