Introduction to doctoral research and theory I

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INF 391D.8
Unique Number 28195

Dr. Philip Doty

School of Information

University of Texas at Austin

Fall 2007

Class time: Friday, 9:00 AM – 12:00 N

Place: SZB 556
Office: SZB 570
Office hrs: Tuesday 1:00 – 2:00 PM
By appointment other times
Telephone: 512.471.3746 – direct line

512.471.2742 – iSchool receptionist

512.471.3821 – main iSchool office

Class URL:
TA: Sidney Tibbetts

Office hours: TBA


Introduction to the course 3 3

Expectations of PhD students’ performance 5

Standards for written work 6

Editing conventions 10

Grading 11

Texts and other tools 12

List of assignments 14

Outline of course 15

Schedule 17

Assignments 24


Readings from the class schedule and assignments 29

Selected ARIST chapters 1966-2007 37

Sources on doing research 42
Research and research methods in information studies

Research methods

Nature of science and systematic inquiry
Useful serial sources 50
Additional sources 55

Important professional associations and organizations 73


“We live in a period of profound skepticism. We have exposed all of the ‘good lies’ but still crave their solace.”

Sue Curry Jansen, Censorship: The Knot that Binds Power and Knowledge (1991, p. 190)

INF 391D.8, Introduction to Doctoral Research and Theory I, is the first in a two-course sequence of seminars required of doctoral students in the School of Information. The overarching goal of the two courses is to enable students to understand systematic inquiry in information studies and to understand how they can be part of that inquiry. Because the field is both trans- and interdisciplinary, the literatures we read, the concepts we engage, the modes of knowing and argumentation we mobilize, and the criteria we use for judging knowledge claims will reflect a number of positions, traditions, and disciplines.

The course comprises five short units that overlap to some extent:

Unit 1: Exploring the character of information studies (classes 1-2)

Unit 2: Thinking about systematic inquiry (classes 3-7)

Unit 3: Theoretical and methodological overviews of information studies (classes 8-9)

Unit 4: Examining specific theories and methods of inquiry in information studies including

the work of iSchool faculty members and senior doctoral students (classes 10-12)

Unit 5: Presentations of students’ research (class 13).

More specifically, INF 391D.8 has the following aims:

  • To ensure that students adequately understand the process of research and some of the important ways it has been pursued in the western tradition; review and critique of the principles of scientific inquiry are of special interest.

  • To introduce students to the making of theory in the field and cognate disciplines.

  • To consider important questions related to epistemology, identity, and community that are of special importance to doing research and making theory in our field – questions about how we know, how we determine what we know, and how we know in concert with others infuse the course.

  • To expose students to important research methods and traditions in the field and beyond, especially to investigate positivist, post-positivist, and constructivist methods of research. These methods may include the empirical social scientific, historical, philosophical, literary, theoretical, ethnographic, quantitative/statistical, qualitative, policy analytic, rhetorical, systems analytic, and so on.

  • To consider how concerns with theory and method have taken shape in the field of information studies.

  • To examine three of the major schools of thought that characterize systematic inquiry in our field: (1) the useful if limited simile of information as thing, (2) the cognitivist approach to information retrieval and learning, and (3) the performative perspective emphasizing practice, materiality, community, and the social construction of knowledge.
  • To identify a wide variety of the important research fronts in our discipline and cognate disciplines, including the organization of information, intellectual history, information behavior, management of information organizations, and information systems design and evaluation. The particular character of these research fronts will vary according to the interests of the students and the instructor.

There are three major reasons that much of DRT I is dedicated to understanding systematic inquiry, especially science:

  1. The PhD is a research degree, and enrollment in such a program indicates a commitment to systematic inquiry in its many forms.

  1. As a discipline and field of inquiry, information studies itself springs from the social and behavioral sciences, humanities, and computational sciences, as well as from the natural and physical sciences to a lesser degree. The more we understand the creation, sharing, and use of knowledge and the practice of inquiry, the better we understand our own discipline and how to do good research.

  1. In part, our discipline emerged from the marriage of library service and information science and their shared concerns with scholarly communication and the distribution of scientific information. The more we understand the processes of systematic inquiry and the roles of communication in it, the better able we are to design, implement, evaluate, and re-design information systems to serve all kinds of people in all sorts of situations.

With these reasons in mind, nine of the 14 classes in this version of DRT I focus on our field (classes 1-2, 8-9, 10-12, and 13-14), while the other five focus on the bases of systematic inquiry and the practices of knowledge production (classes 3-7). The boundary between a disciplinary-specific focus and a wider look at systematic inquiry is, of course, quite permeable.

Generally, the instructor will begin each class with a brief review of logistics, e.g., readings for next class, assignments, and academic housekeeping. He will then usually talk a bit about the topic(s) and readings for the day’s class, usually keeping his remarks to 30 minutes or less. Then the students will generally have the floor for the rest of the class to engage the readings, discussion questions, assignments, and related topics. Thus, active reading, active participation, and academic initiative are key to our mutual success this semester.

Throughout the semester, we will also try to remain acutely aware of our “cognitive insecurity and our vulnerability to good lies” (Jansen, 1991, p. 191), learning to exercise engaged skepticism – not dismissive cynicism – about the points of view and disagreements we will examine. It is important to remember that reasonable people can disagree and that the classroom is a place where such disagreement is welcome. Not only do humility and academic courtesy demand respect for others, but recall that disagreement is one of our major resources for learning.
One of the implicit themes of the course will be the role of research in the university, the history of the research university in America, the status of the university in American life, and the purpose of graduate (especially doctoral) education. While readings about these topics will not be required, they will be useful supplements to the class readings and useful over the course of students’ academic and professional careers. See, e.g., Ehrlich (1995), Graham & Diamond (1997a, b, and c), Kennedy (1997a, b, c, and d), and Shils (1997a and b).
The course is a way to integrate students more fully into the field, to help them become more active readers and writers, to help them develop as more fully realized researchers, and to enhance their understanding, use, and development of theory in the field. The course encourages students to consider what our field recognizes as convincing evidence, strong modes of argumentation, and appropriate and productive rhetorics. At the same time, students must further develop their own goals, methods, and standards for their scholarly work and that of others.

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