Weekly reading summary #2

D’Andrade, R. (1986). Three scientific world views and the covering law model. In D.W. Fiske & R.A. Shweder (Eds.), Metatheory in social science: Pluralisms and subjectivities (pp. 19–41). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Rayward, W. B. (1996). The history and historiography of information science: Some reflections. Information Processing & Management, 32(1), 3–17.

Said, E. (1993). The politics of knowledge. In C. McCarthy & W. Crichlow (Eds.), Race, identity and representation in education (pp. 306–314). New York: Routledge.

D’Andrade (1986) presents the covering law model of science, which states that science consists of the search for laws, generalized across a series of events, that explain and predict the chain of events. (pp. 19–20) He argues that this model applies well to physical sciences, less well to natural sciences, and more problematically to “semiotic” sciences. He writes that these are three separate worldviews and that the social sciences, which fit into the category of semiotic sciences, need not feel constrained by the covering law model. The semiotic sciences explore the creation of an imposed order rather than explaining a natural order. They require a creative, interpretive path to discovery of this order. (p. 23) Critics point out the intersubjectivity of social science—the degree to which one even can have different meanings for different people—and some directly reject any science that deals with interpretation of meanings. (p. 31) D’Andrade contends that narrowing the range of possible interpretations through data collection can strengthen research. (p. 33)

Rayward (1996) writes that Information Science’s diffuse and undefined nature poses problems for its historians, and that the field’s interdisciplinarity is a dominant theme. (pp. 3–5) He spends much of his essay explaining the divide between Library and Information Science and Computer and Information Science, but eventually concludes that since so much current (in 1996) research in the former led to the latter, the differences no longer matter, if they ever did. Therefore historians of Information Science can appropriate any discipline they feel is necessary to tell the stories of the field. Information Science, as it is currently understood, appeared with the advent of new information processing machines after World War II. Because of this brief history, most academic treatment of Information Science fits into Braudel’s idea of the durée courte, or short-term history. (pp. 12–13) Rayward suggests two approaches to studying this history: synchronic, which focuses on the various academic endeavors of a single period; and diachronic, which studies a single issue, method, or approach over more than one time period, as defined by the individual researcher. (pp. 13–14)

In Said’s essay (1993), he argues that a politics based strictly upon racial or nationalist identity is insufficient for a post-imperialist, postcolonial world. The original movements of cultural and minority identity activism were meant to include works by previously ignored or undervalued writers and thinkers in the canon, rather than elevating them to a place of honor above the canon. For aiding his thinking, Said credits Frantz Fanon, who warned against “the hijacking of common sense by bureaucrats, technical experts and jargon-wielding obfuscators” (p. 309). This directly echoes (or rather, foreshadows, in real time) last week’s essay by McMurtry. Said specificially describes an incident in which he was excoriated for not including non-European thinkers in a chapter about European intellectual history. Said writes that some circumstances certainly warrant the inclusion of such writers but that simply including a list of their names would undervalue their contributions. I encountered a similar situation when writing a proposal for a new course. The one black member of the department’s curriculum committee demanded that I add “some black names” to the list of required readings, even though the field’s introductory classics have been dominated by white writers.

Despite having no previous academic interest in library and information science, I find myself very much drawn to the interdisciplinarity of it, since my field, media studies, is similarly poorly defined. Rayward’s definition of Information Science as an “interdiscipline” would work well in helping me to define my own field. Since I am interested in the history of the media—and of attempts to understand it—I could directly appropriate Rayward’s discussion of the synchronic and the diachronic for my own work. Even aside from history however, I am heartened by the concept of an “interdiscipline” since my own interests in media studies encompass the fields of sociology, education, history, literature and cultural studies—which has often made it difficult to define myself.

I am also encouraged by D’Andrade’s three-world-view model, since the first two weeks of my readings in the Ph.D. program have focused heavily on the social science experimentation mode of research, which is not how I envisioned the bulk of my own work before matriculating. I have already taken in much of the value of this evidentiary approach, but have been struggling with its limitations, and hoping for a validation of other methods, which I find here.

Said’s essay itself exemplifies both the interdisciplinary and interpretive approaches that I hope to incorporate into my own work, in that Said’s historical, cultural, and literary knowledge all combine to make a powerful argument about society’s intellectual constructs. It is interdisciplinary, echoing Rayward’s description of Information Science. It is also interpretive, rather than trying to demonstrate some sort of general law. It is an argument firmly rooted in time, place, and Said’s own political views, but it is no less strong for that. In fact, had Said not attended the academic conference that launched his line of thinking, his essay might not exist at all.

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