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Thematic Issue n° 39 "Knowledge Organization: epistemology, theoretical and methodological approaches

Revue Études de communication Number 39, December 2012

Guest editors

Michèle Hudon, Ph.D., Associate Professor, EBSI, Université de Montréal, Canada

Widad Mustafa El Hadi, Professor, UFR IDIST, labo. GERiiCO, Université de Lille 3


  • 1 J. Tennis, “Epistemology, theory, and methodology in knowledge organization”, Knowledge Organizatio (...)

Knowledge organization is an area of activity, study and research, perhaps even a discipline that occupies a section only of the vast territory covered by information sciences. Tennis describes it very generally as “a field of scholarship concerned with the design, study and critique of the processes of organizing and representing documents that societies see as worthy of preserving”1. Closely linked to the tradition of indexing and classifying documents in libraries, the knowledge organization domain was first invested by librarians, documentalists, archivists and other document representation and retrieval professionals. Gradually, it expanded its conceptual boundaries by welcoming specialists from other disciplines (linguists, terminologists, computer programmers, sociologists, etc.) to face the new realities of the processing and dissemination of information conveyed in documents, whatever the material support. Those who call themselves knowledge organization specialists now come from a surprising diversity of backgrounds, adhere to a variety of traditions, and examine a wide range of topics.

At international and national conferences on knowledge organization or on one of its aspects, such diversity enriches the debates. But it can also give a strong impression of dispersion and create, within the modest ranks of professionals and researchers in the field, sub-groups with diverging interests that, in the medium term, will observe that the impact of their actions on contemporary information systems is diminishing.

The lack of a concrete and functional description of what is and what isn’t covered by knowledge organization is one of the principal causes of the transformation of an area of activity originally well delineated into a refuge where all think they belong. Moreover, the relations between neighbouring fields of activity and research with different goals, such as knowledge organization and knowledge management, seem more and more blurry.

It is essential that we examine the true theoretical foundations and the pragmatic aspects of knowledge organization. The principles which have until now anchored our activities, vocabulary control, rule of specificity, bibliographic warrant and logical, general to specific structuring, are no longer sufficient to manage the growing complexity of the knowledge universe as well as the diversification of information needs and behaviours.

Knowing where we come from is a prerequisite to the transformation of existing models and structures conceived by and for human analysts and users in structures that can be used by search engines. The exercise may be organized around a set of questions attached to the epistemological, theoretical or methodological dimensions of knowledge organization. The questions suggested below represent a sample only of all possible orientations and topics that could be examined.

Epistemological dimension

Can we delimit the knowledge universe that must be represented and organized?

How can we define and distinguish knowledge, information and document, three entities we need to represent and organize?

Can we reconcile the positivist (naturally structured knowledge) and pragmatic (knowledge structured according to needs and interests) visions?

Can we reconcile knowledge organization such as discussed by philosophers, anthropologists, etc. and knowledge organization as practiced in various information environments?

Theoretical dimension

Which theoretical paths should we take to delimit the area covered by knowledge organization?

Do one or many unified theories of knowledge organization exist?

Is there a need for a unified theory of knowledge organization?

Is knowledge organization based on a disparate collection of theoretical elements borrowed from other disciplines rather than on a single theory? Which ones?

Why are identification and understanding of the theoretical foundations of knowledge organization, unified or not, essential?

Is standardization of knowledge organization terminology essential?

Which theoretical bases can we used to compare various models and structures of knowledge organization (disciplinary, phenomenon or object, taxonomic, mono-hierarchic, multidimensional (facets), horizontal (folksonomies, key words, etc.))?

With what could we replace the traditional model of discipline-based organization? And why?

Methodological dimension

Which methods should be prioritized in fundamental or applied research about one of the aspects of knowledge organization?

Which methods, based on a legitimate theoretical framework, can be applied to the design of knowledge organization systems, their updates and their exploitation?

Which methods should be prioritized for evaluating theoretical and methodological approaches in research?

Which methods should be prioritized for the evaluation of knowledge organization systems?

How should cultural and ethical aspects of knowledge organization be taken into account?

How can we guarantee the quality of the tools and products of knowledge organization?

The guest editors of this thematic issue invite authors to submit their paper proposals in the form of a 1000-1500 word abstract before September 15th, 2011, to <>. The proposals and the papers can be submitted in French or in English.

Scientific committee

Clément Arsenault, EBSI, Université de Montréal (Canada)

D. Grant Campbell, University of Western Ontario (Canada)

Stéphane Chaudiron, GERIICO, Université de Lille 3 (France)

Viviane Couzinet, LRASS, Université de Toulouse (France)

Claudio Gnoli, University of Pavia (Italie)

Rebecca Green, OCLC (États-Unis)

Michel Gorin, Haute École de Gestion de Genève (Suisse)

Michèle Hudon, EBSI, Université de Montréal (Canada)

Geneviève Lallich-Boidin, ELICO, Université Claude Bernard, Lyon 1 (France)

Ia Mcllwaine, University College London (Royaume-Uni)

Elaine Ménard, SIS, McGill University (Canada)

Heather Moulaison, SISLT, University of Missouri (États-Unis)

Jean-Paul Metzger, ENSSSIB (France)

Widad Mustafa El Hadi, GERIICO, Université Lille 3 (France)

Fabrice Papy, Université Nancy 2 (France)

Seth Van Hooland, Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgique)

Important dates

Submission of proposals: September 15th 2011

Notification of acceptance: November 15th 2011

Preliminary version of the papers: March 15th 2012

Final version of the papers: May 15th 2012

For more information on Études de communication, please see the journal’s web site at


1 J. Tennis, “Epistemology, theory, and methodology in knowledge organization”, Knowledge Organization, 35, 2/3, 2008, p. 103.

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