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Epistemologies and theories in information science, critical realism, humanities, digital archives

Transcript of Building Digital Archives

  • Paisey 1 Florence M. Paisey

    Dr. Donald Latham

    Preliminary Preparation: Theory

    July 2014

    Building Digital Archives: Realistic Social Constructions

    Scientific, social, and humanistic theories largely proceed from a

    disciplines dominant ontological and epistemological perspectives. This paper

    emphasizes the importance of epistemological clarity in relation to theory and

    two theories that provide principles for research in understanding the acceptance

    of digital humanities and digital resources by humanities scholars. The Social

    Construction of Technology as well as Foucaults notion of discursive

    communities offer conceptual frames to understand digital resource use as well

    as information behavior, organization, and knowledge production.

    Digital humanities approaches knowledge production in both the

    humanities and social sciences with unconventional theory and methods. It

    brings quantitative project and application driven technologies to both

    humanities and social sciences, often in a cross disciplinary way. Digital scholars

    work with an abundance of empirical material using modern automated analysis

    methods...across a number of disciplines (Evans and Rees 23).

    Digital technologies enable scholars to ask new questions and extend

    interpretive potentialities. Automated means of analyzing massive textual data

    sets enable distant reading. Other digital tools afford conceptual mapping and

    graphing across disciplines and within socio-cultural contexts over centuries

    (Moretti 18). As a result, genuinely new modes of inquiry...such as building,

  • Paisey 2 modeling, simulating, sampling or experimenting emphasize topics and

    interpretation through numerical, machine generated data (Liu Academic 19;

    Meaning 414).

    This emphasis implies a positivist epistemology and challenges the long

    standing epistemological, ontological, theoretical, and methodological

    underpinnings of humanities and recent social science research, bringing tension

    to some, enthusiasm to others. Texts or data analyzed through automated

    processing and quantitative emphasis stand in stark contrast to traditional

    humanist concerns with qualitative data concerned with individuals, expressivity,

    uniqueness, and ambiguity. Alan Liu believes the humanistic interpretive

    tradition and search for meaning accounts for the humanist tension over

    realigned epistemological approaches. How does the humanist move from

    numbers to meanings? What meanings and what kind of knowledge can be

    adduced from quantifiable aspects of culture? (Liu Academic 19; Liu Meaning


    Manoff states that scholars are raising questions about what counts as

    knowledge and what are appropriate objects of study in specific disciplines (14).

    She observes that there is growing confusion among librarians, the archival

    community, and disciplinary scholars about the concept of the archive. As Manoff

    points out, the notion of the archive reflects the development of theories about

    the nature of the disciplines and about what constitutes their legitimate objects of

    study (11). Are archives repositories and collections of artifacts and

    manuscripts? Are they repositories of published materials and other cultural

    objects? If electronic, are they simply anything that exists as a digital

  • Paisey 3 assemblage? Are they a discrete collection of related electronic documents a

    thematic text?

    Drucker typifies the philosophical tension in the humanities, observing

    that digital humanists have crossed their epistemic boundaries by adopting

    digital tools blindly without due consideration for their epistemological biases

    (Humanities 1). She cites Google maps, timelines, topic mapping, and other

    digital representations as realist observer independent abstractions, describing

    a priori conditions, and that this empiricist approach conflicts with interpretative

    epistemologies of humanistic inquiry and knowledge production.

    And yet, Drucker appreciates the techniques, insights, and understandings

    that data mining and large corpus processing bring to the humanities

    (Humanities 8). The challenge she presents is rethinking digital tools for

    visualization on basic principles of the humanities (Humanities 7). Her issue is

    well-taken textual elements, specifically graphical elements, produce meaning

    (Drucker Graphical 275).

    How can GIS tools, topic mapping, literary maps, and graphs serve as

    tools, particularly for subtle, graphic expressivity? (Drucker Graphical 271;

    Reuschel 2). Bodenhamer, Corrigan, and Harris recognize the epistemological

    implications for humanists, particularly with GIS tools, but they point out that

    humanities scholarship entails moving beyond traditional disciplinary and

    methodological boundaries and scholarly comfort zones. They believe the true

    potential of GIS and spatial humanities emerges from an interdisciplinary nexus


  • Paisey 4 McCarty states that digital tools belong in the humanities, asserting that

    they help scholars ask better questions (1224). He reviews the role of computing

    in the humanities, beginning with Busas Index Thomisticus, and criticizes the

    traditional model of humanities scholarship for its failure to describe serious

    intellectual work in humanities computing (1227). Unsworth identifies several

    sophisticated digital archives and emphasizes the activities that digital

    information, particularly networked digital information, bring to higher level

    scholarly activity across disciplines, over time, and independent of theoretical

    orientation (1).

    Clearly, regardless of ones academic discipline or epistemic culture,

    prevailing intellectual assumptions or epistemologies describe the nature of

    knowledge, the forms it takes, and how one acquires it (Corbetta 12). Given that

    digital tools cross disciplinary boundaries and digital archives contain materials

    representative of all disciplines, clarification of the role epistemology plays in

    theory, research, and practice is essential in developing robust understandings of

    epistemic cultures, particularly in humanistic subjects. Budd recognizes that LIS

    is a practical profession and probes the role epistemology plays in the field as well

    as the purpose a philosophical investigation on knowledge serves

    (Phenomenology 7).

    Hjorland asserts that ones epistemological roots or claims whether

    positivist, empiricist, rationalist, structuralist, post-structuralist, or realist bear

    deeply on information science and on research questions one asks, particularly

    regarding information behavior, collection development, knowledge

    organization, and, ultimately, the criteria on which one determines available

  • Paisey 5 information resources as well as their description (Arguments 497; Empiricism

    140-145). While LIS is admittedly a practical field, practical problems are

    resolved on the basis of theoretical and epistemological assumptions (Talja,

    Tuominen, Savolainen 79). Hjorland emphasizes the need for LIS scholars to

    consider epistemological problems or how knowledge is understood and

    acquired (LIS and Philosophy 5).

    In general a scholars view of what constitutes knowledge generates his or

    her theoretical orientation and LIS practices. Budd states:

    All this [epistemology] may seem so specialized as to be useless to

    us in LIS. On the contrary, we in LIS must be concerned with

    knowledge, both in the critical examination of our profession and in

    the daily workings of those who ask questions, seek information,

    and read (Knowledge 204).

    What one acknowledges as knowledge will directly affect the conceptions and

    the purpose of a library, uses of information, the organization of information for

    use, and the behaviors of users (Budd Knowledge 7).

    Epistemology explores the nature of knowledge, the different kinds of

    knowledge, and those conventions associated with domains, disciplines, or set[s]

    of principles and procedures (Bruner 2). Hansson states that LIS is on the

    border between social sciences and humanities, so perspectives on epistemology

    and interpretative methodology are important (Hermeneutics 102). LIS

    professionals study information seeking, classify and organize knowledge, index

    and represent it, provide document retrieval, and build information collections

    across all domains or disciplinary boundaries physically and virtually. As such,

  • Paisey 6 ones perspective on knowledge and its discovery directly impinges on the

    foundation of information science, theoretical development, and LIS practices.

    Hjorland points out that anti-realist, anti-essentialist epistemologies

    currently dominate discourse and theoretical orientations in the field of

    information science. The anti-realist epistemology maintains that reality exists

    only as ideas, concepts, and social constructions (Arguments 489). As such,

    individuals are inextricably bound within their perceptual, experiential, and

    informational range and this range will vary with contextual factors socio-

    cultural norms, historical trends, and socio-cognitive factors. The possibility of a

    mind-independent reality does not exist. Burr e