A Phenomenological Platform for Redirecting IS Research on Personal Identity

As information technologies (IT) such as mobile devices, wearables, social media and chatbots are becoming increasingly intertwined with individuals’ everyday lived experience, especially their embodied practices (e.g., talking, walking, expressing feelings), the need to understand the relationship between these technologies and personal identity is becoming more pressing. Personal identity refers to individuals’ sense of who they are and who they might become. Interactions with and through technology (re)shape this sense of identity in fundamental ways. However, IS research on personal identity tends to present people as disembodied, rational beings that are distinct from technologies and from others. This dominant point of view threatens to constrain unduly our understanding of personal identity as people increasingly engage with technologies that are implicated in their bodily practices.

In this paper, we develop a theoretical framework to serve as a conceptual platform for future research on personal identity in the era of experiential computing. Our objective is to raise IS researchers’ awareness of the potentialities and implications of the different philosophical positions for studying personal identity in relation to technology use in everyday life. In this way, we hope to redirect IS research in this domain. Drawing on Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, our framework outlines four perspectives on personal identity. The extant literature on individual-level identity in IS (currently 25 empirical articles published between 2007 and 2018) is then classified according to the framework’s quadrants. Of these, one study that best exemplifies each quadrant will be analyzed in detail to tease out opportunities for conceptually re-directing research on personal identity in the era of experiential computing.

Associate Professor Ulrike Schultze

Ulrike Schultze is Associate Professor in Information Technology and Operations Management in the Cox School of Business, at Southern Methodist University. Her research explores the complex relationship between information technology and work practices.  She has studied the work practice implications of knowledge management technology and of Internet-based self-service technology, as well as the implications of social media technologies for identity work. Recently, she has been exploring issues related to digital innovation and the sharing economy.

Dr. Schultze frequently relies on multi-method research designs, which include ethnographic observations, interviews and surveys. Her research has been published in leading IS journals, including ISR, MISQ, EJIS, JIT and I&O.  She has served on numerous journals’ editorial boards including MISQ, ISR, EJIS, JIT and I&O, and is currently a Senior Editor at JAIS and I&O. Dr. Schultze has also taken on significant leadership roles in AoM-OCIS, IFIP 8.2, ECIS 2014 and ICIS 2015.

During her tenure at SMU, Dr. Schultze has taught a variety of classes in the BBA, MBA, MSA and MSBA programs. Her course offerings range from technical topics like business process improvement and internal controls, through understanding the mechanisms through which business analytics solutions generate organizational improvement, to strategic issues like implementing models for digitalization.

Dr. Schultze holds a Bachelors’ and Masters’ degree in Information Systems from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.  She earned her PhD in Management, with a concentration in Information Systems, from Case Western Reserve University.

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