Discovering Ciborra

Last month, I had one of those moments of discovery but, as is often the case, what I found was not what I went looking for. I attended an otherwise fairly routine meeting about Identity in the Information Society at LSE. During the lunch break, I picked up some special scientific journal issues at the LSE publication counter, all in memory of Professor Claudio Ciborra who had been a professor at LSE up until his untimely death in February 2005. Being an academic, little of his substantive work appears on the Web, which is why I found out about him too late. When I did, the overall impression I gained was of an important work left unfinished.

The journals motivated me to buy first one of his books, The Labyrinths of Information (available on Google Books) and, then, another From Control to Drift (also on Google Books).

Professor Ciborra was a social scientist who had moved from consideration of how teams work to how people use and interact with information systems and how the design and implementation of those systems using the currently fashionable "methodologies" and techniques suffered severe shortcomings. He brought to the world of IT the ideas of philosophers such as Husserl and Heidegger, new perceptions of risk from the work of Ulrich Beck and the notion of reflexive modernity from Anthony Giddens.

Reading his books and the articles written by others in tribute to his life and work, I had discovered a man whose thoughts aligned closely with some of mine (e.g. see The Garden of Knowledge, written in 1999). Sadly, of course, I couldn't meet him and exchange ideas with him. Instead, I have been thinking a lot, and writing a little, about his work and ideas and trying to build on his insights to improve my own understanding of the problems of information systems design and development, especially on the themes of:

  • The context of system development, implementation and operation;
  • The fallacies of control and alignment of business and technical agendas;
  • The recent reconsiderations of the nature of risk;
  • The new concept of interaction intensity.