Metatheoretical snowmen: A pedagogical gedankenexperiment in information metatheory


  • Jenna Hartel

    Assistant Professor
    1. Faculty of Information, University of Toronto where her teaching and research centers on three areas: information phenomena in serious leisure; ethnographic methods, especially visual approaches; and the history and theory of information studies
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Editor's Summary

Metatheory is the highest level conceptual device used in social scientific research and determines a way of thinking and speaking about reality and its information phenomena. Today, numerous metatheories exist in information science and create a dynamic climate. There is also widespread confusion about metatheory because it is a relatively new, abstract and elusive concept for students, practitioners and scholars alike. The article introduces metatheory in information science and its ontological, methodological, social and personal implications. Then “Metatheoretical Snowmen,” a novel pedagogical strategy, is described. Metatheoretical Snowmen demystifies information metatheory through a gedankenexperiment, that is, a thought experiment. In Metatheoretical Snowmen, participants apply the characteristics of a variety of information metatheories to the life and information experience of an ordinary and affable persona: a snowman. The renderings of the snowman and its information world bring the special features of each metatheory into clear view. This approach has been implemented to positive effect as a panel presentation at international conferences in information science, including two recent Annual Meetings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T).