Michael Gurstein, What Is Community Informatics (and Why Does It Matter)? (Milan: Polimetrica, 2007), 107 pp., ISBN 978-88-7699-097-7 (pbk), €25.00.
Monographs are far and few between in community informatics. Mike Gurstein has had a key role in establishing the field, and this short book outlines his thinking at the moment.
Due to copyright restrictions, you will need to go to a university website with subscription to a journal service to see the full review (see the citation at the end), but here is part of it with a few other comments. It is a very valuable book, and essential reading, with certain caveats.
Gurstein makes the very good point that Community Informatics is distinguished from Social Informatics as much more of a change-oriented practice than what he sees as Social Informatics’ academic orientation.
This makes him aware that systems’ design for communities involves a whole new set of perspectives from the ground up. However, I was disappointed that there is no reference to the growing corpus of philosophically and sociologically-based Information Systems literature that is increasingly sensitised to the ’social’, and which is increasingly critical of crude theoretical and practice approaches that have a thin appreciation of social-technical complexity (Gregor 2006; Hirschheim et al. 1996). Since the time of writing the review, Henry Linger and I have published an article on Community Informatics and Information Systems and it could be seen as an example of what needs to be done to improve the quality of theory.
Community Informatics researchers would benefit from some immersion in this conceptually challenging literature. The current absence leads to an under-conceptualisation of the importance of theory as a means to actually improve the overall ontology and thus epistemology and practice of CI.
Thus, given Gurstein’s status, there is a danger that others will follow his lead and continue to work from narrow foci, thus leading to a continuing ‘problem’ for Community Informatics as it struggles to find a theoretical base. The result of such a conceptual absence results in a self-fulfilling instrumental focus devoid of originality.
See Gregor, S. (2006) The nature of theory in information systems. MIS Quarterly 30:3 , pp. 611-642.
Hirschheim, R., Klein, H. K. and Lyytinen, K. (1996) Exploring the intellectual structures of information systems development: A social action theoretic analysis. Accounting, Management and Information Technologies 6:1-2 , pp. 1-64.
Published in: Information, Communication & Society, Volume 12, Issue 5 August 2009 , pages 754 – 756