Date of Award

Summer 8-11-2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Computer Information Systems

First Advisor

Daniel Robey - Chair

Second Advisor

Lars Mathiassen

Third Advisor

Upkar Varshney

Fourth Advisor

Abhay Mishra


The IT artifact is at the core of the information systems (IS) discipline and yet most IS research does not directly theorize the IT artifact or its nomological network (Benbasat and Zmud 2003; Orlikowski and Iacono 2001). This research seeks to answer a repeated call for more direct engagement with the IT artifact and its nomological net with affordance theory adopted as the basis for this theoretical work. An exploratory case study was conducted to answer the research question, how do the material properties of health information systems enable and constrain the work practices of clinicians? The study was conducted at a large urban acute care hospital in the Midwestern United States with registered nurses working on inpatient care units as the clinicians of interest. Through interviews with nurses and other clinical stakeholders and the observation of nurse’s work practices on three patient care units in the hospital, theoretical insights were developed on the nature of affordances for information systems research. IS affordances are defined in this study as relationships between abilities of an individual and features of an information systems within the context of the environment in which they function. The concepts of an affordance range and an affordance threshold are proposed as theoretical constructs in the nomological network of affordances that help to explain the use of information systems as a function of the difficulty of acting on IS affordances. The relationship between affordances and constraints is theorized and linked to the affordance range and threshold with the assertion that constraints are closely associated with the difficulties experienced by users in acting on IS affordances. The challenge of studying IS affordances in all their complexity is discussed with the suggestion that researchers take the user’s perspective of affordances to alleviate the need for repeated decomposition. Finally, the role of information systems in facilitating social interaction is emphasized through the concept of affordances for sociality. The contribution of this research to the IS field is a more nuanced understanding of the nature of the IT artifact and its relationship to the users of that technology.