Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto - OCS, 15th INTERNATIONAL ISKO CONFERENCE

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Daniel Martínez-Ávila, Isadora Victorino Evangelista, Maria da Graça Simões, José Augusto Chaves Guimarães

Last modified: 2017-12-18



One of the core aspects of knowledge organization as a field is the organization of knowledge in classification systems and concept systems (Hjørland 2016). The social aspects of the production and consumption of knowledge are also inherent aspects to knowledge organization as these systems are a reflection of the social conditions and epistemology of its time, what Jesse Shera (1951, 82) called a “dependency of classification theory upon the state of the sociology of knowledge.” In the domain analytic approach to knowledge organization, that can be considered a solid continuation of the social epistemological approach established by Shera (and arguably by Margaret Egan too, see for instance Furner 2004), disagreement is common and “the picture is really not one of agreement, but of conflicting schools, and the closer the neighbours the sharper the conflict” (Broadfield 1946, 69, cited in Hjørland 2016, 477). Within this approach, Richard Smiraglia (2012, 114) defined domain “as a unit of analysis for the construction of a KOS. That is, a domain is a group with an ontological base that reveals an underlying teleology, a set of common hypotheses, epistemological consensus on methodological approaches, and social semantics. [...] It is the interactions of the ontological, epistemological and sociological that define a domain and reveal its critical role in the evolution of knowledge.” This group has also been called epistemic community in some studies in knowledge organization (Guimarães et al. 2015; Martínez-Ávila et al. 2017; Hjørland 2017).

Research question, hypothesis and objectives

While domain analysis has been presented and used as a fruitful methodology in knowledge organization (e.g., Smiraglia 2015), our research question is: how can this approach be applied in the diachronic evaluation of knowledge organization systems and production of knowledge? Our hypothesis is that the theoretical framework of epistemic communities, and more specifically considering the dynamics of these community in relation to the production knowledge in the sense of Bourdieu, together with the Kuhnian views on paradigms and scientific revolutions (1962) can assist the development and interpretation of diachronic studies in knowledge organization. The objectives of this paper are: to develop the concept of epistemic communities within the domain analytic approach to knowledge organization; to discuss the dynamic aspects of epistemic communities in relation to domain analysis; and to relate these concepts to Kuhn’s views on paradigms and other concepts of the Sociology of Science that are inherent to the foundations of Library and Information Science and Knowledge Organization.


We conducted a conceptual analysis of epistemic communities and other aspects related to our research question, such as domain analysis, domains, paradigms, paradigm shifts, and other concepts related to domain analysis and Kuhn in Knowledge Organization. We conducted a literature review of these aspects and discussed them in the context of the studies that work with domain analysis as a methodological framework and diachronic studies in Knowledge Organization.

Main results

Diachronic studies in Knowledge Organization include several possibilities, for instance the studies on scheme versioning of knowledge organization systems (see for instance the work on “methodological challenges in scheme versioning” by Joseph Tennis, 2016, and the special issue of the journal Knowledge Organization on “subject ontogeny and knowledge organization system change”), and domain analyses that work with bibliometric studies in various periods of time (e.g., Guimarães et al. 2015).

While production and interpretation of bibliometric studies is recognized as one of the main approaches to domain analysis (Hjørland 2002; 2017), Kuhn himself (1952, 178) also stated that communication networks can be studied (revealed) in the linkages among citations (and Kuhn here cited the works of Garfield, 1964, Kessler, 1965, and Price, 1965 as examples). Rolin (2017, 3) aptly dubs these networks as “specialty communities” (a term used by Kuhn elsewhere), and also quotes Kuhn’s to define “specialty communities” as “the producers and validators of scientific knowledge” (178). In this vein, the term specialty communities inevitably also evokes the domain analytic approach in Information Science, not only in relation to the definition of domain but also in other aspects such as in the discussions on the relevance of subject-knowledge or information specialists (see Hjørland 2017).

Epistemic communities is a concept from Political Science (Haas 1992) also used in Sociology (Meyer and Molyneux-Hodgson 2010). Its first used in Information Science to the best of our knowledge was in Guimarães et al. (2015). Epistemic communities can be understood as networks of knowledge-based experts that “not only hold in common a set of principled and causal beliefs but also have shared notions of validity and a shared policy enterprise. Their authoritative claim to policy-relevant knowledge in a particular domain is based on their recognized expertise within that domain” (Haas 1992, 16).  In other areas such as Philosophy, the link between these scientific communities described by Kuhn and bibliometric studies has been termed “epistemic interest communities” (Massey 2014). These concepts suggest a link to domain analysis in Information Science and the dynamic aspects of the Sociology of Science in Kuhn that will be developed in more depth in the final version of the text.


Our hypothesis seems to be confirmed as epistemic communities can be studied in a dynamic way in order to, for instance, evaluate the development of knowledge organization systems or the transformation domains in time. In this sense, Kuhn’s theoretical framework seems to be a valuable methodological resource for the interpretation of results. As an example, Guimarães et al. (2015) divided the domain analysis of the epistemic communities in Knowledge Organization in periods of five years, revealing a shift from an epistemic community led by Ingetraut Dahlberg (some might say that theoretically driven by ontology) to an epistemic community led by Birger Hjørland (in which the epistemological/domain analytical approach seems to prevail). Using Kuhn’s terms for the interpretation of the results, it could be said that there was a paradigm shift within the Knowledge Organization domain/epistemic community, i.e., a scientific revolution, after a period of competition in which a previously accepted theory was rejected in favor of a new one (Kuhn 1962, 6).

Keywords: Domain Analysis, Epistemic Communities; Kuhn; Sociology of Science


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