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Seeking Knowledge in a Social World: Epistemological Pathways (SIG USE)

Eric Meyers, Theresa Anderson, Olof Sundin and Kris Unsworth

(Submission #35)


Epistemology – the study of knowledge and knowing – is of central concern to information science. Jesse Shera, who coined the term social epistemology with Margaret Egan, suggested that information science is intimately connected to the “production, flow, integration and consumption of all forms of communicated thought throughout the entire social fabric” (1970: 86). Aiding people in the acquisition of knowledge thus becomes the sine qua non of information services and technologies. As social computing and advances in information and communications technologies (ICTs) change the way we seek and use information personally and professionally, it becomes critical that information scientists understand how social processes influence knowledge acquisition. This panel explores empirically and theoretically how people seek and construct knowledge in a social world.

The literature of information seeking has tread lightly in the area of epistemology, in spite of the obvious connections between epistemic practices, individually and socially, and information behavior. This panel seeks to partially remedy this oversight by (1) presenting empirical work relating epistemology to information behavior, and (2) engaging audience members in discussion of the pragmatic and philosophical implications of epistemic research in information science. This panel’s discussion of epistemologies will range from the psychological to the social, including everyday life, academic and work contexts, and institutional/governmental information seeking and use. In presenting the findings of their work, the panelists will encourage discussion of how epistemologies influence how we define information seeking, the relationship between information and knowledge, methodological approaches to exploring these processes, and the relationship between theory and practice in information science.


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