SSI Concept

SocialStudiesOf.Info was set up in 2012 as a complement to the newly established Social Studies of Information Research Group in SOIS, the iSchool at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee. When setting up our research group we were looking around for a broad but coherent identity that could bring together faculty with a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and interests committed to an interdisciplinary dialogue and whose research was grounded in the methods of the humanities and social sciences. As our new research group began to publicize its postdoctoral position and set up our speaker series we realized that there was no efficient way to reach this community because its members were spread over so many different associations and email lists.

While we individually participate in a number of related communities none of the existing labels seemed to quite fit for the group as a whole. Social Informatics is perhaps the closest, but was intended to legitimate social issues as an area of study of equal importance to other varieties of “informatics” and computer science. It therefore puts human relationships with technology, rather than with information itself, at the center of analysis. This did not encompass many topics within areas such as information history or archival studies. “Sociotechnical Systems,” which seems to be replacing social informatics as the preferred term in many iSchools, is an old term, coming from the study of business. It has some currency with computer science, but presupposes a commitment to systems approaches.  Science and Technology Studies inspired us with its vibrancy and inclusion of diverse disciplinary approaches, but it seemed to us more appropriate to identify information rather than science and technology as the shared object that held us together. Internet Studies and the Association of Internet Researchers are of great interest to several of our members, but clearly limit the scope of research to a specific technology.

Our informal sense of Social Studies of Information is essentially as Science and Technology Studies for researchers in the iSchool and communication school worlds. A growing number of faculty with doctoral training in science and technology studies or the history of science and technology have been hired in these schools, and many more have been heavily influenced by these approaches. A growing number of scholars with a background in communications, legal studies, or media studies are also finding common interests with Science and Technology Studies.

More formally, we realized that our interests could be described as involving the historical, social, and cultural dimensions of information, including its institutions, practices, industries, technologies, disciplines, users, policies and ethics. We believe that by framing studies broadly, for example in terms of practices and institutions, and by being tolerant of different disciplinary approaches we can engage scholars in more productive discussion. In contrast the traditional functionalist separation of scholars within the library and information science field into areas such as information seeking, information behavior, information retrieval, archives, public libraries, and so on tends to isolate scholars within very narrow fields of interest.