ASIS&T annual meeting pre-conference activities: SIG/SI 8th annual research symposium a success!



Editor's Summary

Social informatics' past, present and future were the focus of the 8th annual SIG/SI Research Symposium at the 2012 ASIS&T Annual Meeting, with presenters from Europe, Canada and the United States. Papers on the past of social informatics explored its roots in the early 1980s and its domain organization reflected through bibliometric analysis. Current research topics described the influence of information and communication technologies as a contextual element that shapes experience and social interaction, knowledge sharing across boundaries in online communities and studying subjectivity in Web 2.0 research collaborations through Q methodology. Presenters considered the future of social informatics in terms of the influence of information and communication technologies on the economic order, aspects of information practice that demand attention and topics and frameworks for further research. Best paper awards were given for studies on evolving digital rights and urban immigrants' information tactics. Through the symposium and interaction with other SIGs, researchers were encouraged to take a broad view of social informatics to better understand its lessons, influences and future directions.

The 8th Annual SIG/Social Informatics (SIG/SI) Research Symposium, held on October 27, 2012, at the 75th Anniversary Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science and Technology in Baltimore, was a great success. The theme of the symposium was the past, present and future of social informatics. Eleven thought-provoking presentations addressed this theme; several posters and two best-paper awards were also included. The symposium, organized by the authors of this report, was co-sponsored by the Rob Kling Center for Social Informatics. Many of the papers presented at the symposium will be published in a volume entitled Social Informatics: Past, Present and Future, edited by the organizers.

Two of the 11 papers describe the history of social informatics. Howard Rosenbaum began with a historical overview of social informatics, tracing its roots to Scandinavia in the early 1980s. Lori Hoeffner led off the second paper session with a domain analysis using bibliometric techniques to argue that over the last decade social informatics has evolved into a coherent albeit loosely affiliated domain.

Five papers describe current research in social informatics. Sean Goggins presented a case study, co-authored with Christopher Mascaro, of a rural IT firm that illustrates fundamental social informatics insight about the importance of context, arguing that its workers' uses of information and communications technologies (ICTs) shape their experiences of distance as physical, informational and cultural, which, in turn, influence collaborations with urban customers. Kristin Eschenfelder's paper, written with Andrew Johnson, describes the emerging patterns of controlled data-sharing in web-based repositories, illustrating the complex interplay between organizational policies and practices and the technological infrastructure of knowledge commons. Noriko Hara, writing with Pnina Fichman, argues that social informatics researchers should attend to technologically mediated phenomena taking place outside of organizational boundaries. They propose a typology of boundary types as a sociotechnical framework to study knowledge sharing across boundaries by members of open online communities. Beth St. Jean presented a paper written with Katie Shilton and Brian Butler that describes an analysis of self-tracking or the recording, manipulation and sharing of data about one's own bodies and activities, casting it as a new sociotechnical practice and form of information behavior mediated by ubiquitous and interactive mobile technologies. Bringing social informatics to scholarly communication, Ying Sun and Joseph Meloche describe the use of Q methodology to empirically determine the factors that support research collaborations in Web 2.0 environments.

Four of the papers propose future directions for social informatics research. J.P. Allen speculates on the significance of social informatics for mounting a critique of conventional utopian thinking about the role of information and communication technologies in the economic order. Andrew Cox followed with an analysis of the practice approach, focusing on several of its main concepts including materiality, embodiment, process, identity construction and emergence to argue that social informatics can be strengthened by attending to these neglected elements of the contexts of information activity. Grant Leyton Simpson explores the theoretical intersection between textual studies and social informatics by focusing on the sociotechnical investigation of technological objects seen as both cultural artifacts and the products of research. Lysanne Lessard proposes the integration of critical realism into social informatics, arguing that it would allow a reframing of the core sociotechnical problem motivating the discipline and point to a way forward for social informatics research.

During a break following the first paper session, the 30 or so participants viewed four posters provided by Razep Echeng Egbe, Emad Khazraee, Ophelia Morey and Hua Wang, and Miriam Sweeney.

During the last session in the symposium, the 2011 Social Informatics Best Paper Award was given to Kristin Eschenfelder, University of Wisconsin at Madison, and her coauthors Anuj Desai and Greg Downey for their paper “The Pre-Internet Downloading Controversy: The Evolution of Use Rights for Digital Intellectual and Cultural Works,” published in The Information Society. The 2011 Social Informatics Best Student Paper Award was given to Jessica Lingel for her paper “Information Tactics of Immigrants in Urban Environments,” published in Information Research. Full citations are provided below.

The purpose of this annual research symposium is to disseminate and discuss current research and research in progress that investigates the social aspects of ICTs across all areas of ASIS&T. Building on the success of past years, the symposium includes members of many SIGs and defines social broadly to include critical and historical approaches as well as contemporary social analysis. It also defines technology broadly to include traditional technologies (that is, paper), state-of-the-art computer systems and mobile and pervasive devices. In light of the theme for the anniversary Annual Meeting – Information, Interaction, Innovation: Celebrating the Past, Constructing the Present and Creating the Future – the 8th Annual Social Informatics Research Symposium solicited work focusing on the past, present and future contributions and challenges in social informatics – using the rear view mirror to navigate the present and guide us into the future. We asked: What can we learn from the history of social informatics? What are the forces currently shaping the field? In what theoretical and empirical directions is social informatics moving? We were particularly interested in work that assumes a critical stance towards the interplay between people's uses of information and ICT in society and in the workplace. Critical analyses are useful because they question our established assumptions about information and ICTs and their role in society and the workplace.

The symposium was a success with high quality papers, lively discussion and an international audience; the papers and posters were presented by authors from Europe, Canada and the United States. We are pleased to report that the state of research and theorizing in social informatics is healthy and exciting. SIG/SI is already planning the symposium for the 2013 ASIS&T Annual Meeting, and we expect to have another stimulating event.

Full Conference Schedule, Paper Titles and Co-Authors

  • Introduction: Howard Rosenbaum – Comments on the history of social informatics

  • J. P. Allen, University of San Francisco – A business reform agenda for social informatics

  • Andrew Cox, University of Sheffield – Turning to practice in social informatics

  • Kristin Eschenfelder, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Andrew Johnson, University of Colorado at Boulder – Governing the data commons: Controlled sharing of scholarly data

  • Sean Goggins and Christopher Mascaro, Drexel University – Context matters: The experience of ICTs, physical, informational and cultural distance in a rural IT firm

  • Grant Leyton Simpson, Indiana University – Projects and Objects: Points of contact between textual studies and sociotechnical investigations

  • Lori Hoeffner, Adelphi University – The current state of social informatics: A domain analytic perspective

  • Noriko Hara and Pnina Fichman, Indiana University – Frameworks for understanding knowledge sharing in open online communities: Boundaries and boundary crossing

  • Beth St. Jean, Katie Shilton and Brian Butler, University of Maryland, College Park – Self-tracking is social: Toward a model of the technologically mediated information behavior of self-trackers

  • Ying Sun, University at Buffalo, the State University of New York, and Joseph A. Meloche, North Carolina Central University – A Q methodological study on what is important to support collaboration in Web 2.0

  • Lysanne Lessard, University of Toronto – Reframing the sociotechnical problem: A way forward for social informatics


  • Razep Echeng Egbe, University of the West of Scotland – Learners can sustain cognition with the use of social networking tools: Examining user acceptance and critical challenges in the use of Web 2.0 tools and applications for learning in HE

  • Emad Khazraee, Drexel University – Information recording in archaeological practice: A sociotechnical perspective

  • Ophelia Morey and Hua Wang, State University of New York at Buffalo – Mapping the social informatics web for women at high risk of poor pregnancy in Buffalo

  • Miriam Sweeney, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – A familiar face: Critical analysis of Microsoft's “Ms. Dewey”

2011 Social Informatics Best Paper Award

Eschenfelder, K., Desai, A.C., and Downey, G. (2011). The pre-Internet downloading controversy: The evolution of use rights for digital intellectual and cultural works. The Information Society, 27(2), 69–91.

2011 Social Informatics Best Student Paper Award

Lingel, J. (2011). Information tactics of immigrants in urban environments. Information Research, 16(4). Retrieved November 22, 2012, from

Full Symposium Schedule

SIG/SI (Facebook)

Rob Kling Center for Social Informatics