Document (#30081)

Author
Capurro, R.
Hjoerland, B.
Title
¬The concept of information
Source
Annual review of information science and technology. 37(2003), S.343-411
Year
2002
Abstract
The concept of information as we use it in everyday English, in the sense of knowledge communicated, plays a central role in contemporary society. The development and widespread use of computer networks since the end of World War II, and the emergence of information science as a discipline in the 1950s, are evidence of this focus. Although knowledge and its communication are basic phenomena of every human society, it is the rise of information technology and its global impacts that characterize ours as an information society. It is commonplace to consider information as a basic condition for economic development together with capital, labor, and raw material; but what makes information especially significant at present is its digital nature. The impact of information technology an the natural and social sciences in particular has made this everyday notion a highly controversial concept. Claude Shannon's (1948) "A Mathematical Theory of Communication" is a landmark work, referring to the common use of information with its semantic and pragmatic dimensions, while at the same time redefining the concept within an engineering framework. The fact that the concept of knowledge communication has been designated by the word information seems, prima facie, a linguistic happenstance. For a science like information science (IS), it is of course important how fundamental terms are defined; and in IS, as in other fields, the question of how to define information is often raised. This chapter is an attempt to review the status of the concept of information in IS, with reference also to interdisciplinary trends. In scientific discourse, theoretical concepts are not true or false elements or glimpses of some element of reality; rather, they are constructions designed to do a job in the best possible way. Different conceptions of fundamental terms like information are thus more or less fruitful, depending an the theories (and in the end, the practical actions) they are expected to support. In the opening section, we discuss the problem of defining terms from the perspective of the philosophy of science. The history of a word provides us with anecdotes that are tangential to the concept itself. But in our case, the use of the word information points to a specific perspective from which the concept of knowledge communication has been defined. This perspective includes such characteristics as novelty and relevante; i.e., it refers to the process of knowledge transformation, and particularly to selection and interpretation within a specific context. The discussion leads to the questions of why and when this meaning was designated with the word information. We will explore this history, and we believe that our results may help readers better understand the complexity of the concept with regard to its scientific definitions.
Discussions about the concept of information in other disciplines are very important for IS because many theories and approaches in IS have their origins elsewhere (see the section "Information as an Interdisciplinary Concept" in this chapter). The epistemological concept of information brings into play nonhuman information processes, particularly in physics and biology. And vice versa: the psychic and sociological processes of selection and interpretation may be considered using objective parameters, leaving aside the semantic dimension, or more precisely, by considering objective or situational parameters of interpretation. This concept can be illustrated also in physical terms with regard to release mechanisms, as we suggest. Our overview of the concept of information in the natural sciences as well as in the humanities and social sciences cannot hope to be comprehensive. In most cases, we can refer only to fragments of theories. However, the reader may wish to follow the leads provided in the bibliography. Readers interested primarily in information science may derive most benefit from the section an "Information in Information Science," in which we offer a detailed explanation of diverse views and theories of information within our field; supplementing the recent ARIST chapter by Cornelius (2002). We show that the introduction of the concept of information circa 1950 to the domain of special librarianship and documentation has in itself had serious consequences for the types of knowledge and theories developed in our field. The important question is not only what meaning we give the term in IS, but also how it relates to other basic terms, such as documents, texts, and knowledge. Starting with an objectivist view from the world of information theory and cybernetics, information science has turned to the phenomena of relevance and interpretation as basic aspects of the concept of information. This change is in no way a turn to a subjectivist theory, but an appraisal of different perspectives that may determine in a particular context what is being considered as informative, be it a "thing" (Buckland, 1991b) or a document. Different concepts of information within information science reflect tensions between a subjective and an objective approach. The concept of interpretation or selection may be considered to be the bridge between these two poles. It is important, however, to consider the different professions involved with the interpretation and selection of knowledge. The most important thing in IS (as in information policy) is to consider information as a constitutive forte in society and, thus, recognize the teleological nature of information systems and services (Braman, 1989).
Theme
Literaturübersicht
Information

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