INST 352 Lecture 16: INST352 Lecture 16: Choosing Examples of StudiesExam
SchoolUniversity of Maryland
Course CodeINST 352
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INST352 Lecture 16: Choosing Examples of Studies
Despite Talja’s reasonable skepticism, there is some value in striving for well-evidenced
quantitative generalizations or qualitative transferable findings about individuals or
groups; otherwise, there would be little point in ever investigating information practices.
Talja’s comments serve to emphasize the importance of attending to elements of
context , particularly those “social roles, tasks and identities,” and are a reminder about
the dangers of making sweeping claims regarding large, diverse populations of
subjects. This is particularly important when practitioners implement changes (e.g., new
systems designs, changes in reference services) based on study results. Martzoukou
(2005) makes similar points in a critique of Web-based information seeking studies.
But what constitutes a “context”? Dervin (1997, p. 14) says that there “is no term more
often used, less often defined, and when defined, defined so variously as context.” She
goes on to complain that
virtually every possible attribute of a person, culture, situation, behavior, organization, or
structure has been defined as context . … context has the potential to be virtually
anything that is not defined as the phenomenon of interest. Dervin provides a few
examples that help, at least, to narrow the definition a bit. She quotes Dewey (1960, p.
90) as saying that “context is … a selective interest or bias which conditions the subject
matter of thinking.”
To Bateson (1978, p. 13) context is “the pattern that connects … without context there is
no meaning.” Talja, Keso, and Pietila inen, in an article devoted to how information
behavior researchers have dealt with the study of context (1999, p. 752), characterize
context as “some kind of a background for something the researcher wishes to
understand and explain”: ¨
the site where a phenomenon is constituted as an object to us … . any factors or
variables that are seen to affect individuals’ information seeking behavior:
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