Talja, Sanna & Nyce, James M. (2015) The problem with problematic situations: Differences, between practices, tasks, and situations as units of analysis. Library & Information Science Research.
How should we define the context for our research when we study how people come to possess something that can be called expertise? When we want to understand how and under what conditions people become skilled in information filtering, finding, and sharing? Information literacies researchers agree that information activities should always be studied within the work and everyday life contexts where these activities take place. But researchers are interested in studying different information skills challenges. Some choose to concentrate on what happens when a person must come up with sources, or interact with an information system. Some want to follow how people set out to solve a specific type of task. Some are more interested in the specifics of a situated activity setting or domain where information exists and is applied by those with appropriate competences and tools.
The concepts of situation, task and practice are frequently used in studies of information use in work and everyday life. As analytic concepts, these concepts are not interchangeable: they originate from divergent intellectual traditions and give rise to different kinds of research problems and programs. Explaining how exactly the underlying assumptions of person-in-situation studies, task-based studies, and practice-based studies differ, is the goal of this paper. We argue that there is a long line of research that decontextualises the knower and ignores the potentials for knowing and learning which a specific activity environment represents. We suggest that situations and tasks be understood not as key analytical concepts, but as elements of a situated activity setting, a practice.
Another paper we (Nyce, James M., Talja, Sanna & Dekker, Sidney) have been working on is called “When Ghosts Can Talk: Informant Realities and Ethnographic Policies.”
Sometimes, when conducting fieldwork, we as researchers encounter situations in which we perceive that our informants accept as truthful claims or ideas that in our view are fallacious or even ridiculous. If we wish to maintain the stand that as researchers, our task is to understand the cultures and knowledges of those we are studying, how can we write intelligently when people refer to things like ghosts, witches, or magic, as information sources or explanations for events? Generally, researchers find a strategy which allows them to give the “supernatural”, in our terms at least, a natural explanation. This article pins down the range of strategies researchers use for dealing with refractory categories and events like ghosts and other “non-existent things.” We could and should use these testimonies to widen our understandings and reportages. Our education and the genres of writing available to us as scholars can seriously limit what we feel able to report and how. Even if we feel unable to take on radically different epistemologies and ontologies, we can at least use informants’ accounts to more deeply understand the taken for granted truths and reportages of our own culture.