Bodies of Knowledge: A Discourse Analytic Insurrection of the Library Experience
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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
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), http://0-www.oed.com.wncln.wncln.org/view/Entry/104170?rskey=jMDB28&result=1&isAdvanced=false. 3 information, n., OED Online (Oxford University Press, September 2011), http://0-www.oed.com.wncln.wncln.org/view/Entry/95568?redirectedFrom=information.
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
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.
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.
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), http://0-www.oed.com.wncln.wncln.org/view/Entry/54094?redirectedFrom=discursive. 6 Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge & The Discourse on Language, 3