The surface of emergence in systems development: Agency, institutions, and large-scale information systems

Bongsug Chae, Marshall Scott Poole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is a strong tendency in the systems development literature to focus primarily on the system under development and to underemphasize the role of pre-existing information systems. Pre-existing information systems are treated largely as black boxes that serve as resources or constraints on development. A case study of a large-scale information system within a major university system in the U.S. is used to explore the role of pre-existing information systems in the development and emergence of a new system. The case study develops the argument that pre-existing information systems are active forces in systems development. Their influence occurs both through the material constraints and directions inherent in existing systems and through the experiences and learning from previous systems, which shape developers' approaches to building the new system. The study also develops a theoretical framework that integrates elements of structuration theory and actor-network theory to provide a more fine-grained analysis of how information technologies and institutional features interact in the structuring of organizational information systems. This study offers several theoretical and practical implications for IS development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-36
Number of pages18
JournalEuropean Journal of Information Systems
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Agency
  • Emergence
  • Information systems development
  • Large-scale information systems
  • Social institutions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Library and Information Sciences


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