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Agile software development: A contemporary philosophical perspective

Northover, M.ORCID: 0000-0002-3449-0496, Northover, A., Gruner, S., Kourie, D.G. and Boake, A. (2007) Agile software development: A contemporary philosophical perspective. In: 2007 Annual Research Conference of the South African Institute of Computer Scientists and Information Technologists on IT Research in Developing Countries, 2 - 3 October 2007, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

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This paper critically evaluates the use of revolutionary and evolutionary theories of scientific method, respectively those of two prominent 20th century philosophers, Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper, to account for change in software engineering methodologies. The paper will predominantly assess the extent to which the Agile software community's use of Kuhn's theory of revolutionary scientific change, particularly in Kent Beck's Extreme Programming (XP), is justified. It will be argued that whereas Kuhn's concepts of "scientific revolutions" and "paradigm shift" can partially explain the large-scale, radical change from "traditional" software methodologies to Agile ones, Popper's critical rationalism seems better suited to the small-scale, piecemeal methodological approach of Agile methodologies. The ethical implications to software engineering of Kuhn's and Popper's theories, as well as the work of the Peopleware authors and the architect, Christopher Alexander, will be discussed. Finally, the ideas of the Frankfurt School will be used to broaden the Popper versus Kuhn debate. A critical reflection on the soundness of applying theories of scientific methodology to the practice of software engineering concludes this paper.

Item Type: Conference Paper
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