Delineating the boundary of “context” in information behavior: Towards a contextual identity framework



Despite the seemingly widespread and growing attention to the notion of ‘context’ in information seeking, the concept remains ill-defined and inconsistently applied. There isn't any success in defining: What context really means? What are the boundaries of context? What constitutes the ‘core’ (main factors that lead to information seeking behavior) and what constitutes the ‘surrounding’ circumstances (or context)? Where do we draw the line between this core and the context? Or does this context subsume the core? The contribution of this theoretical study will be to help towards delineating the boundaries of context through a Contextual Identity Framework, where we apply the sociological notions of identity, personal identity, social identity and stereotype. The framework has 3 components: 1) Personal Context or ‘my’ context, 2) Shared Context or ‘our’ context, and 3) Context Stereotype or ‘his/her/their’ context. Through this framework, we highlight the futility of trying to define context using any one view. It is only when we take all the 3 views of context into consideration that we are able to adequately define, understand and study context. We hope the framework will provide a basis to further theoretical research in the meaning, role and boundary of context in information behavior.