Critical Information Studies

Posted Friday April 14, 2006 by Nick Caldwell in |

Via Crooked Timber, an essay entitled Critical Information Studies: A bibliographic manifesto (PDF document).

Of it, Henry Farrell at CT opines:

Among many other interesting things, Siva’s piece points to two aspects of Critical Information Studies that seem (to me; Siva is rather more generous) to be very useful correctives to tendencies within cultural studies as it exists today. One is an emphasis not on bodging together different and incompatible forms of theory, but instead on trying to make them interoperable, through using a vocabulary that doesn’t necessarily span them, but that makes the insights, say, of a computer science professor like Ed Felten intelligible to a legal scholar like Larry Lessig. Second, is a clear connection between theory and praxis – critical information studies is not only devoted to sorting out theory, but pragmatically applying it to change politics through initiatives and organizations like the Creative Commons and Access To Knowledge.

Although I’m disappointed that Henry’s yet another humanities scholar who seems to have an antipathy to what he terms “modern cultural studies” (I’ve no idea what he means by the term, except that it’s not the good old stuff of Hall, Hoggart, et al), he’s right that Critical Information Studies sounds like an interesting development.

I reproduce the abstract below:

This paper takes measure of an emerging scholarly field that sits at the intersection of many important areas of study. Critical Information Studies ( CIS) considers the ways in which culture and information are regulated by their relationship to commerce, creativity, and other human affairs. CIS captures the variety of approaches and bodies of knowledge needed to make sense of important phenomena such as copyright policy, electronic voting, encryption, the state of libraries, the preservation of ancient cultural traditions, and markets for cultural production. It necessarily stretches to a wide array of scholarly subjects, employs multiple complementary methodologies, and influences conversations far beyond the gates of the university. Economists, sociologists, linguists, anthropologists, ethnomusicologists, communication scholars, lawyers, computer scientists, philosophers, and librarians have all contributed to this field, and thus it can serve as a model for how engaged, relevant scholarship might be carried out. CIS interrogates the structures, functions, habits, norms, and practices that guide global flows of information and cultural elements. Instead of being concerned merely with one’s right to speak (or sing or publish), CIS asks questions about access, costs, and chilling effects on, within, and among audiences, citizens, emerging cultural creators, indigenous cultural groups, teachers, and students. Central to these issues is the idea of ‘semiotic democracy’, or the ability of citizens to employ the signs and symbols ubiquitous in their environments in manners that they determine.

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