Foucault's toolbox: use of Foucault's writings in LIS journal literature, 1990–2016

Publication Date13 Feb 2020
AuthorScott Hamilton Dewey
SubjectLibrary & information science,Records management & preservation,Document management,Classification & cataloguing,Information behaviour & retrieval,Collection building & management,Scholarly communications/publishing,Information & knowledge management,Information management & governance,Information management,Information & communications technology,Internet
Foucaults toolbox: use of
Foucaults writings in LIS journal
literature, 19902016
Scott Hamilton Dewey
Law Library, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Purpose To provide a close, detailed analysis of the frequency, nature, and depth of visible use of Michel
Foucaults works by library and information science/studies (LIS) scholars.
Design/methodology/approach The study conducted extensive full-text searches in a large number of
electronically available LIS journal databases to find citations of Foucaults works, then examined each cited
article to evaluate the nature and depth of use.
Findings Most uses of Foucault are brief or in passing. In-depth explorations of Foucaults works are
comparatively rare and relatively little-used by other LIS scholars. Yet the relatively brief uses of Foucault
encompass a wide array of different topics spread across a wide spectrum of LIS journal literature.
Research limitations/implicationsTh estu dy was limited to articles from particular relatively prominent LIS
journals. Results might vary if different journals or non-journal literat ure were studied. More sophisticated
bibliometrictechniques might reveal different relati ve performance among journals and might better test, confirm, or
reject various patterns and relationships found here. Other research approaches, such as discourse analysis, social
network analysis, orscholar interviews,m ight reveal patterns of use and influencenot visible in this literature sample.
Originality/value This intensive study of both quality and quantity of citations may challenge some
existing assumptions regarding citation analysis, plus illuminating Foucault scholarship. It also indicates
possible problems for future applicationof artificial intelligence (AI) approaches to similar depth-of-use studies.
Keywords Foucault, Discourse, Power, Surveillance, Discipline, Panopticon, LIS, Library and information
studies, Information science, Bibliometrics, Citation analysis
Paper type Research paper
I would like my books to be a kind of tool-box which others can rummage through to find a tool which
they can use however they wish in their own area [...].I would like the little volume that I want to
write on disciplinary systems to be useful to an educator, a warden, a magistrate, a conscientious
objector. I dont write for an audience, I write for users, not readers (Foucault, 1974, pp. 523524).
This article derives from an earlier article in this journal (Dewey, 2016). That article focused
exclusively on library and information science (LIS) scholarsuse of two major works of
FoucaultThe Archaeology of Knowledge and The Order of Things. Contrary to initial
expectations, that study found LIS scholars visibly using those books less than anticipated, at
least in the journal literature the study surveyed.
The earlier study implicitly raised, but left hanging, additional questionsparticularly:
what were LIS scholars doing with the rest of Foucaults oeuvre? And if they used the two
works studied relatively little, were they perhaps making heavier use of other Foucault
writings? Were certain areas within LIS especially fond of certain other works? The earlier
project suggested such possibilities to explore further.
This study seeks to complete the earlier, unfinished picture by tracing the use of any and
all of Foucaults works in the same body of LIS journal literature selected forthe earlier study,
works used by
library and LIS
The author wishes to thank the editor, anonymous reviewers, and copy editor at Journal of
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 21 August 2019
Revised 1 October 2019
27 December 2019
Accepted 29 December 2019
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 76 No. 3, 2020
pp. 689-707
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JD-08-2019-0162
and all the Foucauldian topics, concepts, and ideas his LIS users have explored. This study
also traces patterns and relative disparities in use of particular sources and topics between
different journals and different sectors of LIS. A fuller version of this study and its supporting
data are available elsewhere (Dewey, 2019).
French historian, philosopher, and critical theorist Michel Foucault (19261984) perhaps
needs no introduction as one of the most frequently cited authors across a broad range of
academic disciplines, including LIS (Brothman, 1999, p. 65; Buschman and Brosio, 2006,
p. 408), and the dominant figure of postmodernism, a powerful intellectual current that
reshaped Western cultural thought and critical theory during the late 20th century
(Viires, 2011, p. 451; Radford, 1992, p. 416). Foucault is foundational to discourse analysis,
which has gained popularity with many scholars and disciplines (Day, 2005, pp. 589593;
Hannabuss, 1996;Radford, 2003;Frohmann, 1994, p. 119). But in his many books and essays,
he also explored a wide range of other topics and issues, including power, sexuality, and
social discipline and control.
Foucault said he saw his works as a kind of tool-box which others can rummage through
to find a tool which they can use however they wish in their own area. ...I write for users, not
readers(Foucault, 1974, pp. 523524). This study tracks which tools LIS scholars selected
from Foucaults toolbox, and how they were used. This study also confirms, more broadly, the
earlier study by finding that LIS scholars mostly have used Foucaults works fairly briefly,
sporadically, and unsystematically, much like Foucaults image of rummaging through a
toolbox. Yet, however heavily or lightly used by various authors, Foucaults writings and
ideas also have helped stimulate a wide array of varying and interesting studies and
explorations of many different topics within the LIS community.
Research methods
This study shares various design features with the earlier companion study (Dewey, 2016).
Similarities will be summarized briefly; differences will receive fuller attention.
Both studies rely upon full-text digital searches of 105 LIS journals listed, as of 2015, as leading
LIS journals, whether generally or within certain specialized sectors (SCImago, 2013;Nixon, 2014;
Anderson, 2009). This study extends the earlier studys period of coverage through 2016, though
it excludes the earlier study (Dewey, 2016) and any potential related impacts on research results in
later years. This assured that nearly all journals were fully accessible through the end of the
period, and various previously unavailable articles from earlier years also were added to the
sample. Several articles that lacked optical character recognition (OCR) capability necessary for
digital searching were identified and checked manually. Some journals remained inaccessible for
digital searching, while others, when searched, did not mention Foucault, or only a different
Foucault. Ultimately, 67 of the 105 journals searched mentioned the right (Michel) Foucault.
From these 67 journals, 1,062 articles were inspected for their detailed description of
Foucault.Unlike the earlierstudy specifically concerninguse of two of Foucaultsworks, in this
study, depth of use focuses on the extent to which Foucaults ideas are explored, not which
specific work/sare used. Unlike more traditional bibliometricstudies focused on citations,this
study tracksevery single mention ofFoucaults name within the LIS journalsample, assuming
that to study theoverall shape of discourse regarding a figure likeFoucault, not only the high
points matter, but possibly also the many lower points. Almost any reference to Foucault,
including mere brief passing references in main text or footnotes or Foucaults name only
appearingin titles of other authorscitedsecondary works,constitutes a larger or smallersignal
regarding Foucaults use or significance and contributes cumulatively to the overall state of
discourseon Foucault. Thus this study alsotracks all the various mentionsof Foucault that do
not constitute proper citations. The concept is, more or less: what information could an
uninitiated reader, or perhaps an artificial intelligence(AI) system, learn about Foucaultfrom

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