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Blaise Cronin

Volume 42 includes several chapters on topics of longstanding interest to the field. Regular ARIST readers will not be surprised to see a section devoted to information seeking and retrieval, or chapters reviewing developments in knowledge management and education for information science. Coverage of syndromic surveillance systems and education informatics takes us in somewhat newer direction s, as does the section on academic disciplines, about which I would like to say a little more.

We tend to take academic writing for granted, like wallpaper or muzak. It's as if writing is unrelated to the doing of science: a mere afterthought. But writing in all its manifestations, from jottings in a lab notebook to the polished prose of the peer-reviewed article in the journal of record, cannot be separated from the material practices of scholars and researchers, a point made succinctly by Montgomery (2003, p. 1): "There are no boundaries, no walls, between the doing of science and the communication of it; communication is the doing of science."

Texts are not simple reflections or representations of the world-as-is. Rather they are shaped by, and in turn shape, the disciplines and discourse communities of which they are constitutive elements. Different academic disciplines have different conventions when it comes to the formal presentation of research findings and claim staking. We use, more or less consciously, a battery of rhetorical devices (e.g., hedging, the passive voice, copious referencing) to marshal evidence, mobilize support, and, ultimately, persuade the reader of our viewpoint. Styles of writing are as varied as the epistemic cultures with which they are associated. The textual outputs of critical theorists and high-energy physicists, for instance, would not easily be confused; these two tribes inhabit mutually unintelligible discourse domains (Sokal & Bricmont, 1998). But one should be careful not to reify disciplines; disciplines do not exist independently of the congeries of norms, institutional arrangements, social relations, professional values, and language with which they are associated; disciplines are these assemblages. In chronicling the history of sociology at the University of Chicago, Abbott (1999, p. 87) notes at one point that there "was no discipline of which the AJS [American Journal of Sociology] was the journal. Quite the reverse. The AJS, with a few other institutions and networks, created the discipline."

It is almost thirty years since Latour and Woolgar (1979, p. 88) provocatively described the scientifically complex activities performed at the Salk Laboratory as "the organization of persuasion through literary inscription." Almost overnight, academic writing ceased to be a straightforward, after-the-fact activity: It had been, to use the vogue term, "problematized." To understand science and scientists, one needs to understand the material and discursive practices of those doing and reporting the science. And these days reporting is more often than not a collective activity. In almost every field of scientific endeavor, co-authorship is commonplace. "The author is dead, long live the contributor!" has become the fashionable cry. Sometimes the numbers involved are modest, sometimes massive. As a result, authorship, too, has been problematized. Who precisely is the author, and what exactly does authorship entail when literally hundreds of names appear on the byline? The issues (e.g., trust, oversight, ownership) are many and varied. One thing is clear: What holds for writing holds for authorship. As Biagioli (2003, p. 274) observes: "Scientific authorship, whatever shapes it might take in the future, will remain tied to specific disciplinary ecologies." There are at least as many kinds of writing and as many conceptions of authorship as there are disciplinary cultures and subcultures.

In recent years, genres of writing and forms of authorship have themselves become the stuff of scholarly investigation, attracting the attention of socio-linguists, information scientists, and others. This year's ARIST has for the first time a section on the "Nature of Academic Disciplines," in which these topics, heretofore either ignored or at best treated cursorily, are explored in thoroughgoing fashion. Lest we forget, information science grew out of documentation: Did not American Documentation metamorphose into the Journal of the Association for Information Science? Our field's historic focus has been on documents: their production, codification, assembly, and retrieval. In his splendid book, Deflating Information: From Science Studies to Documentation, Frohmann (2004, p. 17) refocuses our attention on the nature of documentary practices: "If we can obtain a clear understanding of the many things scientists do, we can begin to ask fruitful questions about the place among them of the production and use of documents."

It behooves us as information scientists to familiarize ourselves with the nature of disciplines and the ways in which different material cultures shape knowledge production processes. The texts we handle, physically and virtually, emerge from a rich variety of epistemic cultures; they are imbued with the values and norms of those cultures and both reflect and shape prevailing discursive practices. To understand academic writing it is first necessary to under stand the nature of academic disciplines. The doing and the writing of science are not disjoint activities; rather they are tightly coupled. In sum, texts have contexts and documents a "social life" (Seeley & Duguid, 1996). The remit of information science extends to the analysis of those contexts and social lives, as I hope this volume makes clear.


Abbott, A. (1999). Department & discipline: Chicago sociology at one hundred. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Biagioli, M. (2003). Rights or rewards? Changing frameworks of scientific authorship. In M. Biagioli & P. Galison (Eds.), Scientific authorship: Credit and intellectual property in science (pp. 255—279). New York: Routledge.

Frohmann, B. (2004). Deflating information: From science studies to documentation. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.

Latour, B., & Woolgar, S. (1979). Laboratory life: The social construction of scientific facts. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Montgomery, S. L. (2003). The Chicago guide to communication science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Seely Brown, J., & Duguid, P. (1996). The social life of documents. First Monday, 1(1). Retrieved March 18, 2007, from

Sokal, A., & Bricmont, J. (1998). Fashionable non sense: Postmodern intellectuals' abuse of science. New York: Picador.