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Research projects

Cargo cult behaviour in agile systems development

About this project

Project information

Project status

In progress 2016 - 2021


Fredrik Karlsson

Research subject

Research environments

Using a systems development method can be regarded as a rational choice. However, the usage might very well be highly irrational. Do developers and other method users really understand why the do certain things when enact a systems development method? This project focuses on the knowledge of methods, a concept that is applicable both when we think of a particulars method user’s knowledge as well as the knowledge that a method represents.

A cargo culture is originally an anthropological term describing how primitive cultures adopt certain traits and behaviour in a way that seems highly irrational to an external viewer. This phenomenon was first identified during the -50's. Western armies fighting in the Pacific war had used island in Melanesia as way stations during the offensive against Japan. The island natives observed the behaviour of the mysterious guests and how it resulted in “cargo” being delivered in large quantities by ship or air. The conclusion the natives made was that certain behaviour would yield a magical deliverance of cargo from the gods. Consequently, some cultures developed a behaviour mimicking what the westerners did, building airfields, chatting in radio stations built by wood and palm leaves and marching with wooden rifles. The idea among the natives was that this would result in godsend cargo being delivered. Such cultures still exist today.

The concept of a cargo cult as an irrational behaviour has been used when describing systems development use. Method users might behave irrationally and at the same time think it is quite the opposite. This analogy has been frequently used by consultants but is yet to be defined in a scientific way. The aim of this project is to frame the concept of cargo cult behaviour in systems development in a scientific setting and suggest ways to overcome identified problems.

Research funding bodies

  • Research School Management and IT