Bodies of Knowledge: A Discourse Analytic Insurrection of the Library Experience

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Undergraduate Thesis in Philosophy by Brian Rose (University of North Carolina at Asheville, 2011)

Transcript of Bodies of Knowledge: A Discourse Analytic Insurrection of the Library Experience

  • BODIES OF KNOWLEDGE A Discourse Analytic Insurrection of the Library Experience


    Brian J. Rose



    Submitted to the Department of Philosophy

    University of North Carolina - Asheville

    Thesis Adviser: Dr. Melissa Burchard

    Fall 2011

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    Theoretical Objectives

    If one traces the historical development of the library since its inception,

    one notices a series of radical institutional transformations, beginning with

    Melvill Deweys technobureaucratic procedures of library organization in the

    19th Century, followed by the proliferation of digital information technologies

    from the 20th through the 21st Centuries. Whereas librarians of antiquity were

    conceived as custodians of cultural monuments to knowledge, this conception

    is now eroded by one of librarians as information scientists.1 This reveals a

    transformation of the humanistic discipline of librarianship into the scientific

    discipline of Library and Information Science (LIS). This disciplinary

    transformation has been paralleled by a transformation of the theoretical

    constructs of knowledge and information within LIS discourse.

    The Oxford English Dictionary defines knowledge as the clear and certain

    perception of fact or truth; the state or condition of knowing fact or truth,2 in

    contrast to information as the imparting of knowledge in general, including

    knowledge communicated concerning some particular fact, subject, or event;

    that of which one is apprised or told; intelligence, news.3 Within the context of

    this analysis, the term knowledge is used to denote conceptual content in its

    abstract, static capacity; that is, it constitutes conceptual content that has been

    fixed within the schemata of objectivity and appropriated within a body of

    knowledge. By contrast, information designates conceptual content in its material,

    dynamic capacity; that is, it designates conceptual content insofar as it is treated

    1 Bernd Frohmann, Discourse Analysis as a Research Method in Library and Information Science., Library and Information Science Research 16, no. 2 (1994): 130. 2 knowledge, n., OED Online (Oxford University Press, September 2011), 3 information, n., OED Online (Oxford University Press, September 2011),

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    as an empirical phenomenon or material resource (e.g., a text) that may be

    subjected to some dynamic process of manipulation (e.g., codification,

    commodification, retrieval, exchange, translation, etc.).

    The epistemological foundation of positivism has rearticulated the

    theoretical roles of knowledge and information within LIS discourse. Whereas

    the primary concern of librarianship once functioned toward the collection of

    knowledge in its static capacity (i.e., fixing it within a cultural body of

    knowledge), the primary concern of contemporary LIS discourses functions

    toward the utilization of information in its dynamic capacity (i.e., its collection,

    representation, systemization, manipulation, retrieval, and transmission). This

    dynamic utilization, however, appeals to an abstract body of knowledge as a

    hypothetical referent to the whole of objective reality.

    In order to discern the configuration of knowledge and information by

    discursive practices of positivism in contemporary LIS discourses, this

    investigation will proceed through three progressive dimensions of inquiry.

    Firstly, I will investigate the organization of information systems in contemporary

    libraries through the discursive practices of positivism; secondly, I will discern

    how these systems are dynamically mobilized through information retrieval

    technologies, thereby establishing modalities of use between information systems

    and users; lastly, I will analyze the positioning of subjects as information users

    through the librarys institutionalized dissociation between knowers and known.

    This first dimensionthe analysis of systemswill explore the positivist

    treatment of information as a material resource through the librarys textual

    surfaces. I will subsequently explore the body of knowledge as a fundamental

    positivist construct of objective reality. Furthermore, I will explore the librarys

    organization of information systems through various schemata of unity and

    discontinuity wherein the textual surfaces of information are arranged.

    The information systems configured by positivism are subsequently

    mobilized through information technologies; these technologies establish certain

    modalities of use between information systems and users within contemporary

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    libraries. I will commence this section by distinguishing the theoretical

    discourses of information retrieval and information searching insofar as they

    conceptualize modalities of use between information systems and users. I will

    subsequently explore the differential use of three theoretical constructs (i.e.,

    information representation, query construction, and information ranking)

    between these two discourses.

    My analysis of information users will explore the positioning of subjects

    as information users with regard to the positivist configuration of textual realities

    and modalities of use. I will demonstrate how textual realities establish the

    dissociation between knowing subjects and objective knowledge; I will

    furthermore demonstrate how modalities of use institutionalize the cancellation

    of subjective experiences of knowing from the positivist body of knowledge.

    Explication of Terms

    An explication of the key terms is now necessary in order to maintain the

    clarity of this analysis. In proceeding with this explication, I must posit a caveat

    that this discourse analysis seeks to avoid any definitive conceptualization of

    these terms. By this I mean that I am theoretically obligated to maintain a certain

    level of ambiguity in my explication of these terms, to ensure that this analysis

    does not become restricted to the same objectifying mode of positivist discourse

    that it seeks to critique.

    Discourse emerges through the complex and localized relations between

    statements, and serves as an analytical tool through which knowledge and

    power are conceptually associated. He later asserts that discourse is constituted

    by a group of sequences of signs, in so far as they are statements, that is, in so far

    as they can be assigned particular modalities of existence.4 In this sense,

    discourse designates an indeterminate set of statements that is discursively

    arranged through a particular modality of regularity. The magnitude of this set

    4 Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge & The Discourse on Language, Reprint. (New York: Vintage Books, 2010), 107.

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    varies according to the analytical perspectivediscourse may designate anything

    from a portion of a text to the entirety of a cultures body of knowledge.

    The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term discursive as passing

    irregularly from one locality [e.g., subject] to another, or digressive.5 Foucault

    prolifically employs the adjective, most notably in the phrase discursive formation;

    he identifies a discursive formation as establishing a system of dispersion or a

    regularity (an order, correlations, positions and functionings, transformations)6

    between a set of statements, objects, concepts, theoretical strategies, or subject-

    positions. Discursive formations impose patterns of dispersion or regularity

    according to certain rules of formation. A discursive formation may thus be

    identified as a set of rules and practices that associate discourse with power.

    Positivism, insofar as it constitutes a set of theoretical practices that establishes

    conditions of dispersion and regularity between discourses of knowledge, may

    be designated as a discursive formation; these conditions of dispersion and

    regularity configure the complex associations between knowledge and power

    within diverse contexts of discourse.

    Exploratory Methodology

    The theoretical model of this analysis relies primarily on Michel

    Foucaults methodology of discourse analysis, as articulated in The Archaeology of

    Knowledge. One may conceive the theoretical model of this analysis as one of

    exteriority, in contrast to more orthodox models of interiority. As Foucault writes:

    Usually, the historical description of things said is shot through with the

    opposition of interior and exterior; and wholly directed by a desire to move from

    the exterior towards the essential nucleus of interiority.7 Analyses of

    interiority pursue a coherent nucleus of meaning that is thought to subsist in the

    interiority of a particular discourse; by rooting a discourse to its interior nucleus,

    5 discursive, adj., OED Online (Oxford University Press, September 2011), 6 Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge & The Discourse on Language, 3