Speaking things into existence – ontological foundations of identity representation and management
The article “Speaking things into existence – ontological foundations of identity representation and management” authored by Owen Eriksson and Pär Ågerfalk has been accepted for publication in the Information Systems Journal, one of the basket of eight top journals in the information systems field.
Conceptual models capture knowledge about domains of reality. Therefore, conceptual models and their modelling constructs should be based on theories about the world – that is, they should be grounded in ontology. Identity is fundamental to ontology and conceptual modelling because it addresses the very existence of objects and conceptual systems in general.
Classification involves grouping objects that share similarities and delineating them from objects that fall under other concepts (qualitative identity). However, among objects that fall under the same concept, we must also distinguish between individual objects (individual identity).
In this paper, we analyse the ontological question of identity, focusing specifically on institutional identity, which is the identity of socially constructed institutional objects. An institutional entity is a language construct that is “spoken into existence”. We elaborate on how institutional identity changes how we understand conceptual modelling and the models produced. We show that different models result if we base modelling on a property-based conception of identity compared to an institutional one. We use the Bunge-Wand-Weber principles, which embrace a property-based view of identity, as an anchor to the existing literature to point out how this type of ontology sidesteps identity in general and institutional identity in particular.
We contribute theoretically by providing the first in-depth ontological analysis of what the notion of institutional identity can bring to conceptual modelling. We also contribute a solid ontological grounding of identity management and the identity of things in digital infrastructures.
Owen Eriksson, professor at the Department of Informatics and Media, Uppsala University.
Pär Ågerfalk, professor at the Department of Informatics and Media, Uppsala University.