From Capabilities to Embodiment and Back: Lessons from Human Information Behavior Studies

Lueg, Christopher (2016). 'From Capabilities to Embodiment and Back: Lessons from Human Information Behavior Studies' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

topics: Operationalizing the Capability Approach, Technology and Innovation, Diversity

abstract: Stillman and Denison (2014) suggest that the Capability Approach (CA) might serve as a Grand Theory that would be suitable to serve as an overarching theory for a more practically oriented "theory of the middle-range" such Community Informatics (CI) which happens to be their area of interest. In other words, CI can be seen as a particular instantiation or operationalization of CA following a particular agenda which is leveraging ICT to improve people's lives. One of the challenges in CI, and even more so in CA, is that what individuals perceive as their needs and desires may not be the same as what is understood as needs and desires on the level of a communities or even larger aggregations. There is little doubt that in order to achieve change on a grander scale it is necessary to accumulate and aggregate findings (see e.g., the World Development Report 2000/1 on Poverty and Development and its data collection methodology) but this does not mean that the dichotomy disappears which is what I believe Brock's (1999) report "It’s not only wealth that matters, it’s peace of mind too" is hinting at. There are also concerns whether people are actually able to self-report capabilities (Al-Janabi et al 2013) which echoes concerns in allied disciplines including Human Information Behavior (HIB) where it is widely accepted that people are rarely able to articulate what is referred to as their information needs. HIB is a sub discipline in the field of Library and Information Sciences (LIS) exploring "how people need, seek, manage, give and use information in different contexts" (Savolainen 2007). HIB may qualify as a theory of the middle-range since models, as conceptualized in HIB research, "may be described as a framework for thinking about a problem [...] they are statements, often in the form of diagrams, that attempt to describe an information-seeking activity, the causes and consequences of that activity, or the relationships among stages in information-seeking behaviour." (Wilson 1999). Increasingly, IB models are also used to tailor how information is presented such that specific client needs are met which is where HIB meets CI. In the expanded version of the paper I will argue that there are striking parallels between CA, "theories of the middle-range" operationalizing CA, and HIB. Then I will put foward how a recent turn in HIB toward accepting the corporeality of the human existence mandates to look at individual perceptions of reality (aka their lifeworlds) which challenges not only past and present foci on the information needs of larger groups like professions and individuals but more importantly, it also challenges the way data is collected and interpreted in HIB (Lueg 2013) which in turn I will argue has ramification for data collection in projects operationalizing CA.

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