Epistemology and the socio-cognitive perspective in information science



This article presents a socio-cognitive perspective in relation to information science (IS) and information retrieval (IR). The differences between traditional cognitive views and the socio-cognitive or domain-analytic view are outlined. It is claimed that, given elementary skills in computer-based retrieval, people are basically interacting with representations of subject literatures in IR. The kind of knowledge needed to interact with representations of subject literatures is discussed. It is shown how different approaches or “paradigms” in the represented literature imply different information needs and relevance criteria (which users typically cannot express very well, which is why IS cannot primarily rely on user studies). These principles are exemplified by comparing behaviorism, cognitivism, psychoanalysis, and neuroscience as approaches in psychology. The relevance criteria implicit in each position are outlined, and empirical data are provided to prove the theoretical claims. It is further shown that the most general level of relevance criteria is implied by epistemological theories. The article concludes that the fundamental problems of IS and IR are based in epistemology, which therefore becomes the most important allied field for IS.