Thursday, October 21, 2004

The metatheories of LIS

So I've put some work in on the xeno-theories, but what are the metatheories? Tuominen et. al. provide a number of taxonomies. The first few they borrow from others: empiricism, rationalism, and historicism; physical and cognitive. Their own are information transfer, constructivist, and constructionist. Information transfer roughly lines up with Ellis's physical and constructivist with his cognitive. They present constructionist as a new approach that focusses on language or the construction of meaning between actors.

Aren't they missing something? In my mind I've broken out an entire area of post-cognitive literature that focusses on social processes. I'm thinking of Chatman's work or Taylor's Information-Use-Environments. This type of literature--I'm not sure that it even attains the "quasi-paradigm" status--takes a slightly different perspective than the two preceding paradigms. While returning to social issues, the authors esches demographics in favour of grounded analyses that produce new insights. They also look directly to existing social theory unlike the theory-lite practitioner research of the needs and uses heyday.

While I really like Chatman's work--especially her interview pull quotes--I don't know if her theories have really stuck. It seems that while she was presenting her work Dervin was hammering away with Sense-Making and elaborating the various methods and applications. The resulting disciplinary matrix certainly seems to have given some legs to Dervin's work.

To position all of this literature, I want to return to one of our xeno-theories: Giddens's structuration. Giddens is well cited by Dervin, Chatman, and the new-fangled constructionists but they all seem to have bit on different ideas. Dervin for, example, cites Giddens in the context of actors striving to make sense in varying space-time contexts. Much of the social research seems to have focussed on practical consciousness. Earlier needs and uses work--and the newer constructionist stuff--looks at discursive consciousness. One looks at formal discourse and one looks at oral discourse. This dyad is missing something. Discursive consciousness is not an either/or. There must be interaction between the formal and the informal and from the material to the immaterial. Where are the tools? the documents? I think a dose of something like Activity Theory is in order.

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