The Weight of Language and Action: Epistemic Stance, Methodological Action,and Theoretical Perspective in Knowledge Organization
Tennis, Joseph T.
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Knowledge organization (KO) research is a field of scholarship concerned with the design, study and critique of the processes of organizing and representing documents that societies see as worthy of preserving (Tennis, 2008). In this context we are concerned with the relationship between language and action.On the one hand, we are concerned with what language can and does do for our knowledge organization systems (KOS). For example, how do the words NEGRO or INDIAN work in historical and contemporary indexing languages? In relation to this, we are also concerned with how we know about knowledge organization (KO) and its languages. On the other hand, we are concerned with how to act given this knowledge. That is, how do we carry out research and how do we design, implement, and evaluate KO systems?It is important to consider these questions in the context of our work because we are delegated by society to disseminate cultural memory. We are endowed with a perspective, prepared by an education, and granted positions whereby society asks us to ensure that documentary material is accessible to future generations. There is a social value in our work, and as such there is a social imperative to our work. We must act with good conscience, and use language judiciously, for the memory of the world is a heavy burden.In this paper, I explore these two weights of language and action that bear down on KO researchers. I first summarize what extant literature says about the knowledge claims we make with regard to KO practices and systems. To make it clear what it is that I think we know, I create a schematic that will link claims (language) to actions in advising, implementing, or evaluating information practices and systems.I will then contrast this with what we do not know, that is, what the unanswered questions might be (Gnoli, 2008 ; Dahlberg, 2011), and I will discuss them in relation to the two weights in our field of KO.Further, I will try to provide a systematic overview of possible ways to address these open questions in KO research. I will draw on the concept of elenchus - the forms of epistemology, theory, and methodology in KO (Tennis, 2008), and framework analysis which are structures, work practice, and discourses of KO systems (Tennis, 2006). In so doing, I will argue for a Neopragmatic stance on the weight of language and action in KO (Rorty, 1982 ; 2000). I will close by addressing the lacuna left in Neopragmatic thought – the ethical imperative to use language and action in a particular good and moral way. That is, I will address the ethical imperative of KO given its weights, epistemologies, theories, and methods. To do this, I will review a sample of relevant work on deontology in both western and eastern philosophical schools (e.g., Harvey, 1995).The perspective I want to communicate in this section is that the good in carrying out KO research may begin with epistemic stances (cf., language), but ultimately stands on ethical actions. I will present an analysis describing the micro and the macro ethical concerns in relation to KO research and its advice on practice. I hope this demonstrates that the direction of epistemology, theory, and methodology in KO, while burdened with the dual weights of language and action, is clear when provided an ethical sounding board. We know how to proceed when we understand how our work can benefit the world.KO is an important, if not always understood, division of labor in a society that values its documentary heritage and memory institutions. Being able to do good requires us to understand how to balance the weights of language and action. We must understand where we stand and be able to chart a path forward, one that does not cause harm, but adds value to the world and those that want to access recorded knowledge.
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