This paper focuses on the conceptualization of causality. Specifically, it discusses on theorists’ explicit or implicit assumptions about the nature, aspects, and meanings of the concept of causality as it relates to their research interests. Authors proposes a framework of causal reasoning for IS research, consisting of a set of positions on three core causal dimensions. They argue that a deeper understanding of causality will contribute to a deeper understanding of theory and thereby alleviate some of the confusion surrounding theoretical contributions.
Dimension I. Causal Ontology
Causal ontology concerns a theorist’s views about the reality of causality.
- Causality is a convenient metaphor for a logical or metaphysical association.
- Causality implies a real mechanism, that is, a process that connects inputs to outputs.
- Causality is a misnomer, because it incorrectly implies unidirectional, deterministic, external forces.
Dimension II. Causal Trajectory
Causal trajectory refers to a theorist’s views about the causal movements of an affected entity in space and time.
- Causality occurs across the boundaries of a stratified entity.
- Causality occurs within (internal to) an undifferentiated entity.
- Causality occurs through the accretion (growth and complexification) over time of a heterogeneous entity.
Dimension III. Causal Autonomy
Causal Autonomy refers to a theorist’s views about movement of causal effects between human (or social) actors and technology.
- Causal effects move from people (or social actors) to technology—technology as instrument.
- Causal effects move from technology to people (or social actors)—technology as influencer.
- Causal effects move back and forth between people (or social actors) and technology—technology as interactant.
Authors also mention that using the framework leads to multiple combinations of the positions in the framework. However, they also mention some combinations seem incompatible or uncritical. Therefore, it seems uncertain which position, and which dimension, a researcher should depend on.