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Channelling Chatman: Questioning the Applicability of a Research Legacy to Today’s Small World Realities

Moderator: Crystal Fulton Panellists: 1. Gary Burnett, Associate Professor, School of Information Studies, Florida State University, Paper : Virtualizing the Small World: Elfreda Chatman’s Theory of Normative Behavior and Online Communities Profile: Burnett’s research draws on the Theory of Normative Behavior (Burnett, Besant & Chatman, 2001) to investigate the text-based information environments of virtual communities, as well as the creation and maintenance of social norms within those communities. His work extends Chatman’s theory, which grew out of ethnographic students of information-poor, geographically-specific communities, by examining information-rich distributed and technologically mediated communities. 2. Karen E. Fisher, Associate Professor, The Information School, University of Washington, Paper: The Fabulous Poor-Rich Information Worlds of Mothers who Stay-at-Home Profile: Chatman profoundly influenced Fisher’s information behavior in everyday contexts research program (IBEC: In the presentation, Fisher shares how she used Chatman’s theories of information poverty and normative behavior life to study the everyday lives of stay-at-home mothers – part of an NSF funded study that addresses the larger question of why people turn to other people for information and focuses particularly on the role of affect in information behavior. 3. Crystal Fulton, College Lecturer, School of Information & Library Studies, University College Dublin, Paper: Weaving Social Realities in Leisure Contexts: The Case of Irish Lacemakers Profile: Fulton’s research into the information worlds of people engaged in serious leisure, including individuals and groups involved in such activities as amateur genealogy and lacemaking, explores the small worlds developed through leisure participation and the connections among a chosen hobby, community development, information literacy, and social inclusion. Her presentation draws up her research pursuant to receiving SIGUSE’s Elfreda Chatman Research Proposal Award 2005 to pursue a study of Irish lacemakers using Chatman’s small world theories. 4. Julia A. Hersberger, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Paper : Chatman’s Theory of Information Poverty and Real World Applications Profile: This presentation will look at how Hersberger’s work on information user environments of traditionally vulnerable populations (the homeless and abused and neglected children) support some of Chatman’s main theoretical propositions while rejecting others and the real-life consequences.

ASIS&T Annual Meeting - 2006 (ASIS&T 2006)
Austin, Texas, November 3-9, 2006


Panel Summary: Elfreda A. Chatman stands as a research pioneer whose work critically shaped our field. Internationally renowned, she brought fresh attention to the needs of ordinary people – marginalized populations in particular – in everyday settings. Moreover, she introduced the field to the merits and challenges of using ethnographic approaches. Over her career, she published several seminal worlds, including the monogragh, The Information World of Retired Women (1992), which won the 1995 ACRL Best Book Award. Her keynote address at the 2000 Information Seeking in Context (ISIC) conference in Goteborg, Sweden is considered one of the field’s most significant publications. In recognition of her outstanding contributions, in 2005 ASIS& SIGUSE introduced the Elfreda

A. Chatman Research Proposal Award.

Chatman’s research with varied groups, including the poor, older adults, female inmates in maximum security prisons, and janitors was instrumental in her development of several middle-range theories, including Information Poverty, Life in Round, and Normative Behavior. Moreover, with her background in sociology, she introduced the concept of “small worlds” – the backbone of her unique approach to studying information behavior. She inspired and challenged new generations of researchers to explore the varying information realities, both digital and non-digital, inherent in the small worlds of different groups.

Since her premature death in 2002, Chatman’s legacy continues to frame the research agenda and set the standards of information behavior scholars. This panel provocatively addresses Chatman’s contributions by examining how her work affected study of four novel populations on both empirical and theoretical levels. In particular, the panel will question the usefulness of Chatman’s frameworks and whether her efforts at theory building should be continued through new research.

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