6. A hermeneutic analysis of the Denver International Airport Baggage Handling System
Stasys Lukaitis, School of Information Systems, Deakin University Jacob Cybulski, School of Information Systems, Deakin University
Abstract This paper attempts to demonstrate the principles of hermeneutics in an effort to understand factors affecting Information Systems (IS) projects. As hermeneutics provides a systematic method of interpreting text from multiple information sources, thus, Information Systems being prima facie defined and documented as text documents, are eminently suited for this mode of investigation. In this paper, we illustrate hermeneutics by analysing a sample case study document ...view middle of the document...
Making sense of hermeneutics The Oxford dictionary defines hermeneutics as ‘of interpretation’, taken from the original Greek hermeneutikos (Turner, 1987, p. 284). Hermeneutics has been well documented as a philosophy of enquiry, with its roots already evident in late antiquity where ‘the Greeks, the Jews and the Christians had been reading and re-reading their vital texts, namely the Homeric epics, the Torah, Talmud and Midrashim, and the Holy Bible, re-
Information systems foundations
spectively. In the process of their textual labour, these people revised their own idiosyncratic sets of rules for doing interpretation’ (Demeterio, 2001). Demeterio (2001) gives a useful definition of hermeneutics as ‘a theory, methodology and praxis of interpretation that is geared towards the recapturing of meaning of a text, or a text-analogue, that is temporally or culturally distant, or obscured by ideology and false consciousness’. Thus, the understanding that is sought is found within texts and text-analogues – records that have been created by authors. These records might be as prosaic as a report, or as interesting as a series of captured electronic mails (Lee, 1994), or even as a set of transcripts of interviews and case study notes (Montealegre and Keil, 2000; Montealegre et al., 1999). In any event, these documents purport to represent some sort of reality or truth. This search for understanding is influenced by several interesting factors that rely on some assumptions that may or may not all be present and at work at any given time. First, understanding can be viewed as an interpretive oscillation between several layers or perspectives. This is often referred to as the ‘hermeneutic circle or cycle’, where one examines a small fragment of knowledge and seeks to understand it, then looks at the ‘whole’ (whatever that means to the enquirer), and seeks understanding there as well – the smaller fragment being part of the whole, and the whole being composed of many smaller fragments. Understanding, then, is achieved when there is a consistency between the whole and all its component parts and vice versa. Or, as stated by Myers (1994b, p. 191): ‘This hermeneutic process continues until the apparent absurdities, contradictions and oppositions in the organisation no longer appear strange, but make sense’. Second, if understanding can be described as a stable oscillation between the parts of a whole and each individual part exhibiting consistency, then the very act of ‘searching for understanding’ would be the actual oscillation or (hermeneutic) cyclic action. As one searches for understanding, one acquires a small new piece of knowledge or a minor fact, seeks to understand this new piece in itself and also in the context of the already acquired knowledge and existing understanding of the whole. Third, how does one know that understanding has been achieved? The repeated cycling between the parts and the whole will eventually yield consistency...