Social informatics

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Social informatics is the study of information and communication tools (ICT) in cultural or institutional contexts.[1] "Social Informatics (SI) refers to the body of research and study that examines social aspects of computerization, including the roles of information technology in social and organizational change, the uses of information technologies in social contexts, and the ways that the social organization of information technologies is influenced by social forces and social practices."[2]


Research in social informatics can be categorized into three orientations: normative, analytical, and critical. Normative research focuses on the development of theories based on empirical analysis that may be used to develop organizational policies and work practices. The heart of such analyses lies in socio-technical interaction networks, a framework built around the idea that humans and the technologies they build are "co-constitutive," bound together, and that any examination of one must necessarily consider the other. Studies of the analytical orientation develop theory or define methodologies to contribute to theorizing in institutional settings. Critical analysis examines technological solutions from non-traditional perspectives in order to influence design and implementation.[3][4]


Social informatics research focused primarily on organizations in the 1970s and 1980s, as they were the ones most likey to have information and communication tools (ICT). At this point researchers were asking questions like[3]:

  • "What would be the impact of computers on organizational behavior if we did X?"
  • "What would be the changes in social life if we did X?"
  • "Will computer systems improve or degrade the quality of work?"
  • "To what extent did organizations become centralized after computerization?"

During the 1990s, with the Internet age upon people, researchers began asking other questions:

  • Will the Internet provide even higher quality information than before to the public?
  • Will Internet-based higher education courses eventually replace physical classes at universities and colleges?

During this time several important truths were found about the field of study. First, contradictory outcomes may evolve out of two or more similar but separate ICT implementations and usages. These differences can be accounted for "by emphasizing the importance of the social and organizational contexts and their effects on ICT implementation and use.[4] Second, ICT design, implementation, and use occurs within and is affected by a complex mesh of non-technical social contexts, decisions, and practices.[4] Finally, designers, administrators, and deployers of ICTs can all benefit the end user and the social contexts surrounding the ICTs by applying social informatics analysis before or during the design, deployment, and usage of those ICTs.[3]

Today, social informatics continues to expand in scope as technology adoption and information consumption expands. The 2014 International Conference on Social Informatics, for example, will attempt "to bridge the gap between the social sciences and computer science ... by putting emphasis on the methodology needed in the field of computational social science to reach long-term research objectives."[5] Other topics suggested for future development by social informatics researchers include "[i]ntegrated development issues of electronic information resources and their effective use in different spheres of society" and "[e]xploring new opportunities for human development in the Information Society, including intellectual, creative, and moral qualities."[6]

See also


This article reuses a few elements from the Wikipedia article.