Critical Theory for Library and Information Science: Exploring the Social from Across the Disciplines

by Elizabeth Lieutenant

Buschman, J., Given, L. M., & Leckie, G. J. (2010). Critical theory for library and information science: Exploring the social from across the disciplines. Santa Barbara, Calif: Libraries Unlimited.

Selected chapters:

In his chapter, “Michel Foucault: Discourse, Power/Knowledge, and the Battle for Truth,” Olsson introduces readers to Foucault, a theorist who has widely influenced a broad variety of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Olsson devotes discussion to Foucaudian discourse analysis, which situates communication within the socio-historical context of a particular community or discipline and assesses how power dynamics affect the practice, influence, and social validity of discourse, and Foucault’s panopticism, a basis for critiquing the power and authority exerted through hidden institutional surveillance and the self-violence inflicted upon individuals who exercise self-control to appease these unseen forces. Despite Foucault’s prominent theoretical influence on discourse, power, and knowledge construction, or state-surveillance and self-punishment, Olsson concludes that, when compared to other disciplines, LIS has been late in applying Foucault’s overlapping theories to its own discipline’s discourse.

Raber’s “Hegemony, Historic Blocs, and Capitalism: Antonio Gramsci in Library and Information Science” details Gramsci’s Marxist theory philosophy of praxis, a revisionist approach to Marxism. This philosophy theorizes the modern capitalist state, the  formation and influence wielded by a society’s historic bloc through economic, political, and cultural hegemony, the relationships between subordinate classes and their sociohistorical formations, and the potential power social consciousness and organized action can play in dismantling oppressive socioeconomic conditions. Raber concludes with a review of the scant LIS literature that draws upon Gramsci’s work, situates library advocacy and critical LIS scholarships within Gramsci’s conception of social change through collective action (the Party, or Modern Prince), and the dichotomy between democratic ideals and the perpetuation of oppressive injustice in democratic states. As Raber ends his piece, “So it goes.”