What everybody knows: embodied information in serious leisure

Date08 May 2017
Published date08 May 2017
AuthorAndrew M. Cox,Brian Griffin,Jenna Hartel
What everybody knows:
embodied information
in serious leisure
Andrew M. Cox
Information School, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK, and
Brian Griffin and Jenna Hartel
Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to reconsider the role of the body in information in serious leisure by
reviewing existing work in information behaviour that theorises the role of the body, and by drawing
selectively on literature from beyond information studies to extend our understanding.
Design/methodology/approach After finding a lack of attention to the body in most influential works on
information behaviour, the paper identifies a number of important authors who do offer theorisations. It then
explores what can be learnt by examining studies of embodied information in the hobbies of running, music
and the liberal arts, published outside the discipline.
Findings Auto-ethnographic studies influenced by phenomenology show that embodied information is
central to the hobby of running, both through the diverse sensory information the runner uses and through
the dissemination of information by the body as a sign. Studies of music drawing on the theory of embodied
cognition, similarly suggest that it is a key part of amateur music information behaviour. Even when
considering the liberal arts hobby, the core activity, reading, has been shown to be in significant ways
embodied. The examples reveal how it is not only in more obviously embodied leisure activities such as
sports, in which the body must be considered.
Research limitations/implications Embodied information refers to how the authors receive information
from the senses and the way the body is a sign that can be read by others. To fully understand this, more
empirical and theoretical work is needed to reconcile insights from practice theory, phenomenology, embodied
cognition and sensory studies.
Originality/value The paper demonstrates how and why the body has been neglected in information
behaviour research, reviews current work and identifies perspectives from other disciplines that can begin to
fill the gap.
Keywords Information practice, Information behaviour, Corporeal information, Embodied information,
Serious leisure, The body
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
The growing corpus of work on information in serious leisure (Case, 2009; Chang, 2009;
Cox et al., 2008; Cox and Blake, 2011; Fulton, 2009; Hartel, 2003, 2014; Prigoda and
McKenzie, 2007; Stebbins, 2009) has typically drawn on existing theories of information
behaviour and information practice[1] developed in work or educational contexts.
These theories are primarily concerned with seeking and using written sources of
information and to some degree sharing information through spoken interaction. A focus on
written sources reflects the origins of information studies in the provision of information
through libraries and digital repositories. Yet activities involving the body embodied
activities are very important in serious leisure, the systematic pursuit of an amateur,
hobbyist or volunteer activity that participants find so substantial and interesting that, in
the typical case, they launch themselves on a career centred on acquiring and expressing its
special skills, knowledge, and experience(Stebbins, 1992, p. 3). This is most obvious in
sports, where the central activity is carried out with the body and experienced through the
senses. But it equally applies to the performing arts, like music and acting, which revolve
around the performing body, and crafts and collecting, which revolve around material
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 73 No. 3, 2017
pp. 386-406
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/JD-06-2016-0073
Received 3 June 2016
Revised 22 September 2016
Accepted 2 October 2016
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
objects being produced and organised. Indeed, the centrality of embodied experience to all
aspects of human life makes the relative neglect of the body in information behaviour
studies surprising and potentially problematic.
It seems that the evolution of research in the specialty of information behaviour has led
to a focus on information in written texts, an emphasis on cognition and a relative neglect of
the role of the body. As we try and develop a fuller account of information in leisure
especially sports and the performing arts, this starts to seem inadequate. Some work has
begun to explore the importance of the body in information behaviour (Lueg, 2012, 2014;
Olsson, 2010, 2016). In particular, Lloyd (2009, 2010, 2014) in a number of works in the
adjacent field of information literacy has started to theorise the corporeal modalityof
information. Yet in many other disciplines, such as history, geography and sociology, the
body and materiality have been of central interest for several decades (Nettleton and
Watson, 1998; Pink, 2015). A corresponding methodological debate about how to study
embodied experience has also occurred outside information studies (Pink, 2015). This offers
a very rich body of work to draw inspiration from. Often such work comments directly on
informational concerns or is capable of translationto information studies (Palmer and
Neumann, 2002). This paper argues that there is a similar need to incorporate a concern with
the body into information behaviour research.
The aim of this conceptual paper is thus to review existing work that theorises the role of
the body in information behaviour, and draw selectively on literature from beyond
information studies to extend our understanding. We seek to summarise the contribution of
the most important authors on this topic from information behaviour. From the rich vein of
literature beyond our field, we have purposively selected works which directly relate to
three contrasting leisure activities. Following a meta-ethnographic approach (Noblit and
Hare, 1988) we chose literature that is both relevant and translatable to information
behaviour research. In doing so we draw on work influenced by phenomenology and some
based on the theory of embodied cognition. Other strands of thought from the history of the
senses are also referenced. We try to make clear how the work reviewed sits within these
traditions, but such eclecticism is needed to demonstrate the potential role of the body in
information behaviour, though we will go on to acknowledge the need to resolve the
underlying philosophical differences in these traditions through further theoretical and
empirical work. As well as shifting eclectically across a number of theoretical resources,
inevitably we have to reflect their varied terminology (the senses, sensory information, the
lived body, the haptic, corporeal information, etc.). While our preferred term is embodied
information,it would only be through more fundamental theoretical work that these
varying terminologies could be reconciled. Similarly, we do not seek to clarify the relation of
cognition, affect and body in this paper. In most of the theories we are using these are
closely interwoven. We will suggest this as another area where further research is needed.
The paper is organised as follows. In the first section we explore some previous
important theories of information behaviour, and applications of these theories, to examine
the extent and character of the neglect of the body. We then turn to a number of important
theorists in the study of information behaviour who offer starting points for thinking about
the role of the body. Then, inspired by work done in sports science, we discuss how we can
further elaborate the role of the body in information behaviour, through consideration of a
case study of running. Further points are made through two other cases of serious leisure
activity: amateur music and liberal arts hobbies. The discussion and conclusion bring
together thoughts about how to theorise the body and suggest directions for future research.
2. A body is missing
The first section of the paper considers a number of the theoretical works that have been
influential in the study of information in serious leisure and considers how far they have
information in
serious leisure

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