Structural constraints and situational information seeking: a test of two predictors in a sense-making context
Nilan, Michael Sanford
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This study examines the existing controversies of mechanistic versus non-mechanistic and individual versus structural conceptualizations of human information seeking behavior in communication research. In examining traditional, structuralist, and interpretivist approaches, these two issues seem to have similar bases. Rather than abandon a focus on individual behavior in favor of structural concerns, the purpose of the study is to try to address these concerns using actor assessments of structure rather than observer assessments of structure. After a discussion of these two controversies, an interpretivist approach (Sense-Making) is chosen as a base line for beginning to address structuralist concerns within an interpretivist framework.Using dimension suggested by structural approaches to information seeking, two experimental structural predictor variables, Perceived Relative Status and Perceived Openness of Communication, are conceptualized in a manner consistent with the Sense-Making approach. These two variables were actor assessments of structure rather than the observer assessments characteristic of structuralist conceptualizations. These two experimental structural variables are examined in a 3 x 2 x 2 repeated measures design using factor analytic criterion variables based upon the empirical generalizations of the ten-year programmatic research of the Sense-Making approach. Using factorial analyses of variance in conjunction with a measure of association (estimated variance accounted for), the study addresses hypotheses relating to the utility of the two experimental structural predictor variables within an interpretive approach.The study concludes that, in the context of an interpretive approach, the two experimental structural predictors of information seeking behavior contribute to our understanding of human information seeking behavior. Further, the study concludes that the results obtained with these two predictor variables are consistent with both interpretivistic conceptualizations of information seeking and structuralist expectations. Further research is called for in the area of expanding the coverage and context of relevance for individually perceived structural dimensions to information seeking.
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