Employee Resistance to Digital Information and Information Technology Change in a Social Service Agency: A Membership Category Approach

Kathryn R. Stam, Jeffrey M. Stanton, Indira R. Guzman


Responding to new government regulations about reporting data, a social service agency decided to require caseworkers to use laptop computers extensively, taking these devices with them on calls to clients. The resistance of caseworkers to this mandate and this change provided an opportunity to examine the phenomena of technology resistance. Initially rooting the study in known models for examining technology resistance, researchers found the need to expand upon these models to acknowledge other social aspects, as well as individual aspects to alterations in work behavior. Perceiving that professional identity was at issue, the study employed concepts from Kling's social aspects of computing and Schein's career anchor theory, and used qualitative methods including an adaptation of Sacks's membership category analysis method from the field of ethnomethodology that led to insights about the underlying causes of IT resistance among social service workers. The originality of this micro-level approach lies in its ability to explore moral aspects of professional and personal identity. The approach revealed, in this situation, that workers' resistance was based particularly on a local history of organizational dysfunction in addition to elements such as performance and effort expectancy, attitudes, and anxiety that is typically discussed in the information technology acceptance literature.

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