Document Theory

Authored by: Niels Windfeld Lund , Roswitha Skare

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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This entry provides an overview about the historical development of theoretical reflections on documents and formulation of document theories. Starting out with its Latin predecessor documentum and the use of the conception in the European state bureaucracy from the seventeenth century, the first interest for document theory was a professional one and can be observed at the beginning of the twentieth century, closely connected with names like Paul Otlet and Suzanne Briet. While the notion of document and documentation was well established around 1930, it was replaced by the notion of information after World War II, at least in the Anglophone community. Nevertheless, at the same time, a new kind of document theory was emerging, a critical one connected to names like Michel Foucault, Harold Garfinkel, and Dorothy E. Smith. While the “professional” document theory developed by Otlet and others was focused on the knowledge more or less inherent in the documents and to make documents about something, then the general document theory developed by critical social scientists such as Foucault is much more about what the documents are and do. Since the 1990s, there has been a growing interest in general in the notion of document and documentation as well as inside Library and Information Science (LIS). Together with a growing interest in digital documents, document theorists around the world are emphasizing the complexity in document theory and a need of a complementary approach to document theory connecting physical, social, and cultural dimensions in how documents are and do.

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