Using Humanities Methodologies in the Field of Information and Knowledge Organization
As the conference themes indicate, the Humanities are deeply concerned with issues of human belonging: particularly with the dynamics of culture and identity and with often painful differences of gender, sexuality, race, class and (dis)ability. The field of information studies shares these concerns, both in its earlier incarnation as library science and its current, broader definition as the study of information systems, their design and their use in a variety of technological and social contexts. Working largely within a social science tradition, scholars in information studies have conducted many empirical studies to discover how individual identity is defined against cultural systems of knowledge, particularly those expressed in classification schemes and vocabularies for information access, in libraries, in commercial sites such as bookstores, and on websites. They are also investigating how new capabilities of ordering, labelling and manipulating information electronically can be used in negotiations of difference.
However, studies in this field often lack a sufficiently sophisticated theoretical framework in which to interpret the empirical data they gather. This presentation will provide an example of how a humanities-based approach, grounded in the practice of literary studies, can provide such a framework for a study of information use. In particular, I will use a close reading of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre to interpret data from a series of qualitative interviews conducted with fifteen lesbians and gay men. Brontë’s study of a human being struggling against alienation provides an effective template for comprehending the memories and thoughts of the study participants. Like Jane Eyre, they find themselves the target of harsh words and reductive categorizations, and they learn to retaliate with categories of their own. And many of the participants discover a mode of classification highly similar to Brontë’s strategies of typological interpretation: a way of linking the individual into a knowledge system which is empowering rather than limiting, and which transforms the act of classification from a tyrannical reductiveness into a rich comprehension of alternatives and possibilities.
Grant Campbell (Canada)
Faculty of Information and Media Studies
University of Western Ontario
Dr. Grant Campbell completed his Ph.D. in English at Queen's University; he now teaches in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario in Canada.
Person as Subject
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)