Social Epistemology

Authored by: Steve Fuller

Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, Fourth Edition

Print publication date:  November  2017
Online publication date:  November  2017

Print ISBN: 9781466552593
eBook ISBN: 9781315116143
Adobe ISBN:


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“Social epistemology” is the social theory or social science of knowledge. After the field’s bases in the Anglophone and Continental philosophical traditions are briefly explored, social epistemology’s relevance to library and information science (LIS) is established. LIS presumes that knowledge is both an inherently collective product that ought to be made universally available. This is exemplified in the traditionally iconic status of the library. However, the library began to lose its salience in the Cold War, with the massification, technologization, and instrumentalization of knowledge, now renamed “information” to stress its relativity to decision-making contexts. The resulting stress on user-friendly information intensified after the Cold War, with the rise of neoliberalism. In this context, LIS has stood out in reasserting at a practical level the traditional universalist goals of social epistemology. In particular, Don Swanson’s work on “undiscovered public knowledge” appears as a major achievement in applied social epistemology and a blow for “epistemic justice.” It demonstrates the utility of breaking of default information search patterns that systematically neglect relevant literature in other fields. In the final section, Wikipedia is discussed as a self-organizing experiment in achieving the same effect by refusing to respect any claims to epistemic privilege.

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