The semantics of work in a work system: a pragmatic philosophy of Information Systems

Litchfield, Alan Te Morenga
Cusack, Brian
Narayanan, Ajit
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

The study is a philosophical investigation into the semantics of Work in the Work System. In the field of Information Systems the Work System concept that has been adopted as a model for the understanding, analysis, and improvement of systems in organisations has not been adequately or formally defined despite that the concept is seemingly accepted as a priori. This view is challenged by asking the question: what are the semantics of Work in the Work System?

Work is fundamentally a human expression and a socio-cultural object. Work serves as a social good through the establishment of relations of various kinds. Further, that throughout human history, people have created technologies to facilitate Work but in the past three centuries, rather than technologies providing the means to facilitate the Work of people, people now provide the means to produce technology to Work. The Work System is regarded as a by-product of an essentially dystopian productionist world but recent technological developments such as Web 2.0 have served to challenge accepted notions of autocracy in the workplace.

The thesis follows a philosophically pragmatist path to address the question, but culminates in a series of semantic statements, that represent a systematic formal description of Work and the Work System as a formal ontology. Several cases are provided as real world counterbalances to theoretical discussions throughout the main body of the thesis. These illustrate uses and applications of Web 2.0 technologies of various kinds and varying degrees of success.

The idea that Work is a central concern in the life of the person, and how the person is affected by the need to Work in a productionist world, is discussed from the standpoint that the dystopian notion of productionism is a product of the industrialisation of the West (and now in the East). It is shown, that the human has become inculcated into the technological system and has become part of the technological system. In that discussion the person is presented as one who enters the system as a powerless being in the face of significant power asymmetries. The state of powerlessness is such that the person may see no other life than that which is provided by the technological system. However, such power asymmetries are assuaged through the use of modern technologies, here represented by Web 2.0. The effect of the adoption of new technologies on Work appear as a shift in the balance of power and that affects how an enterprise functions. This necessitates a redefinition of roles and the Work that is done and Work is subsequently redefined as an objective concept, wherein the relationship between worker and Work is reframed through the appearance of participatory democratic processes of decision making and socialisation in the workplace. Work is represented as a shift in attitude and intention in the worker. Thus, the technological human is represented as an agent of change both in itself and the worlds it occupies.

Ultimately, the prior discussions lead to the establishment of an objective and representational description of the semantics of Work in the Work System. The descriptions provided are phrased in such a way that they are applicable and can be generalised. They provide a clearer understanding of Work in relation to the field of IS and a foundation upon which theory can be built.

Information Systems , Pragmatism , Philosophy , Work , Work system , Semantics , Modal logic
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