Early studies in the domain analytic approach




Jenny Fry

Networked Research and Digital Information, NIWI (Nederlands Instituut voor Wetenschappelijke

Informatiediensten). Joan Muyskenweg 25, 1090 HC Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Email: jenny.fry@niwi.knaw.nl

Sanna Talja

Department of Information Studies, FIN-33014 University of Tampere, Finland.

Email: sanna.talja@uta.fi

Current research on e-journal usage patterns focuses more on measuring levels of use and measuring changes in reading patterns than developing theoretical models that enable the explanation and prediction of patterns in the adoption and uptake of e-journals across scientific fields. Typically, studies either focus on single disciplines or attempt to reach an overview of disciplinary differences by using broad disciplinary groupings, such as physical sciences, health sciences, applied technologies, social sciences, or humanities. We argue that there is a need for extending the domain analytic approach to incorporate a fuller understanding of the cultural characteristics of scientific specialisms, which include both epistemological and social considerations. To this end we suggest that Whitley's theory of the social organization of scholarly fields can be effectively used as an explanatory model of ejournal use across scientific fields. By using

Whitley's theory we also illustrate the limitation of current approaches to the explanation of information practices and e-journal use that use the administrative unit of the discipline, or base comparison on coarse-grained aggregations as the unit of analysis, rather than the specialism.


The increasing move from print collections to digital collections has generated much significant research on scholars' reading patterns and the take-up and use of ejournals 1 (cf. Curtis et al., 1997; Eason et al., 2000; Mahé

1 E-journal here refers to electronic subject-based centralized pre-print archives e.g. arXiv.org, electronic spin-offs of print journals, publisher provided electronic journal services

(aggregated e-journal databases), and peer-reviewed journals published solely in electronic format, but not ones produced locally by scholars.

et al., 2000; Pullinger, 1999; Tomney & Burton, 1998;

Zhang, 2001).

2 Research has tended to focus more on measuring levels of use, however, than on the reasons underlying use and non-use. Among the most significant contributions to e-journal use studies are the Tenopir and

King studies (Tenopir & King, 2000; Tenopir et al.,

2003a, 2003b, 2003c). Focused mainly on physical and applied sciences, these studies have looked at facets such as:

 the use, usefulness and value of the articles read;

 from where scientists obtain the articles they read;

 the format of the articles obtained;

 how scientists learn about the articles they read and;

 the age of articles read (Tenopir et al., 2003b).

Although a number of facets of journal use have been studied, and the studies provide a rare and important longitudinal perspective on the changes in scholars' reading patterns, the reasons underlying usage patterns have not been probed in depth in these or many other ejournal studies. A common shortcoming in research questions such as "when do researchers prefer electronic to paper formats" is the failure to embed users' preferences and information practices within the overarching context of domain differences. Even when questions such as "how do preferences and usage vary between disciplines" are posed they tend not to be the main analytical stance, but are treated as equal to traditional use studies questions such as "how accurately do researchers perceive the availability of electronic materials?"

As Kling and McKim (2000, p. 1306) point out, in the first wave of e-journal use studies the assumption often

2 Tenopir (2003) provides a useful overview of e-journal use studies.


was that given the ease, speed and seamless experience provided by access to full-text e-journals from the scholars' own terminal, all fields would come in a homogeneous manner to rely on a stable set of electronic fora, such as preprint servers, discussion lists, and electronic journals. Hence, surveys gathered information about e-journal use, acceptance, attitudes, and computer and internet use skills, in order to discover ways in which scholars' awareness and use of e-journal services could be enhanced. A notion of a single typical "user" of information systems was often prevalent in the early surveys of the take up of electronic sources (Tenopir et al., 2003b, p. 28). Even user-centered qualitative studies

(cf. Barry, 1995) often viewed individual differences such as individuals' attitudes and feelings (e.g., reluctance to learn new computer applications) as the determinants of the take-up of electronic systems.

Studies undertaken from social informatics and work practice oriented viewpoints (Kling & Covi, 1997; Covi,

1999; Kling & McKim, 2000; Kling et al., 2002) developed a perspective for studying the use of electronic journals and other networked information resources by grounding use in discipline-specific communication practices. These studies suggested that important field differences would persist in the extent to which scholars use e-journals. The overall corpus of e-journal studies to date confirms that different disciplines will embrace ejournals at different rates, and will rely on different types of networked information (Tenopir, 2003). However, there remains a lack of theoretical models that enable the explanation and prediction of patterns in the adoption and uptake of e-journals across scientific fields.

In summary, we have identified four major limitations in current approaches to e-journal use:


Studies are often limited to single institutions, but do not take institutional context into account, such as local information communication technology (ICT) policies. Neither are differences in the social organization of disciplines taken into account.


Studies are often limited to a single discipline.

Such studies enable an in-depth understanding of the patterns of and reasons for e-journal uptake in individual fields, but are over ambitious in their claims for generalizability across other disciplines.


Comparative studies tend to be based on broad disciplinary groupings, such as the physical sciences, health sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Studies of this nature provide a broad picture of current usage patterns. However, they produce idiosyncratic results that do not adequately reflect epistemological activities within the knowledge producing communities that they attempt to represent.


Studies focus on use, rather than non-use, which skews patterns observed within and across disciplines and makes it difficult to develop comprehensive descriptive or explanatory frameworks.

The aim of this paper is to contribute to the development of a domain analytic approach for explaining variation across fields in the uptake and use of e-journals by introducing Whitley's (2000) theory of the epistemological and social organization of intellectual fields. Although Whitley touches upon the relationship between a field's cultural identity and patterns of communication, he does not explicitly discuss the implications of his theory for explaining the adoption and use of information and communication technologies

(ICTs). This paper argues that we can use Whitley's theory to show the connection between the cultural identity of a field and patterns of ICT adoption and ejournal use that emerge within it. The application of

Whitley's theory to predict information seeking and ejournal usage patterns can provide an effective guide for the development of e-journal provision services within the

LIS community.

Early studies in the domain analytic approach

Although studies on scholars' use of electronic journals have moved towards more domain-analytic approaches

(cf. Brockman et al., 2001; Brown, 1999; Tenopir et al.,

2003a), the development of a domain analytic approach for explaining information practices in still in its infancy, as noted by Palmer (1999), Bates (2002), and Hjørland

(2002). The most general implication of domain analysis is that it is more fruitful to take domains, be they specialisms, disciplines, or broad disciplinary groupings, as the basic unit of analysis, rather than focus on users in a generalized and context independent manner (Hjørland

& Albrechtsen, 1995). However, there is still a lack of research addressing the questions of what "topics" or

"domains" are, how they should be defined and treated as research units, and how they differ from disciplines, specialisms, research areas, or discourse communities

(Palmer, 1999). We hope to make a contribution to the discussion around these issues in domain analytic research. In the following, we review the studies that have in our view contributed most to the development of a domain analytic approach for explaining information practices.

Kling and Covi (1997) make an important contribution to understanding the disciplinary shaping of scholarly


communication in their study of the adoption of electronic resources across four different fields. They introduce the concepts of "principle of proficiency" (Kling & Covi,

1997) and "material mastery" (Covi, 1999) to highlight the reasons for field differences in information sources and search methods used. However, while they emphasize the importance of disciplinary differences, and also tackle the epistemological considerations of the scholarly communities they study, they do not seek to develop a model that would enable prediction across a wider range of fields.

Hjørland's four epistemic schools

In his groundbreaking work Hjørland (2000, p. 38) demonstrates that epistemological positions should be considered as the most generalizable explanatory models of relevance and information seeking patterns. He categorizes epistemological positions into four schools; empiricism, rationalism, historicism, and pragmatism.

Within these categories he is able to effectively define what kind of knowledge and data is considered to be relevant and non-relevant in each school. However,

Hjørland's matrix is hindered in its capacity to enable synthesis between relevance criteria and patterns of information seeking. While Hjørland's approach is a major contribution to information science through its promotion of an epistemological viewpoint, it remains limited as an explanatory tool in that it privileges epistemological considerations over social factors, which, we argue, are equally influential in shaping scholarly communication structures. In overlooking social considerations in knowledge production Hjørland's theory does not take into account factors such as reputation building and reward systems, which are highly influential upon patterns of publication and relevance criteria. In comparison, Kling, Spector, and McKim (2002) make an explicit link between patterns of electronic communication and academic social contexts, such as systems of recognition and reward.

Additionally, the four epistemological positions identified by Hjørland (2002, p. 269) are not attached to particular organizational formations, such as specialisms or disciplines. We argue that consideration of such formations is critical, because, whereas the specialism is highly relevant for developing understanding of epistemological structures across scholarly communities, the discipline and related institutional contexts come to the fore for understanding social influence. This is because, while the specialism is the site of knowledge production, the discipline plays an important role in education, training, professional development, and, for some specialisms, reputation building. Therefore, the discipline is an important consideration in developing theories of information seeking, though it should not be the primary unit of analysis for studying scholarly communication.

As noted by Palmer (1999, p. 1140), a further limitation is that Hjørland's theory overlooks the existence of transepistemic arenas of knowledge production (Knorr Cetina,

2000), which is crucial in the understanding of information seeking practices. Knorr Cetina (2000) describes trans-epistemic arenas as formations of varied and fluid coalitions that are not necessarily committed to a single epistemological position. In these coalitions, significance and relevance criteria fluctuate and disciplinary boundaries weaken. Therefore, we would add a social constructionist approach such as the one used by

Palmer and Neumann (2002) to Hjørland's contribution, whereby structures such as reputation building, reward systems, funding, and institutional organization of knowledge producing communities are included in the analytical framework.

Due to the limitations we have identified, it is difficult to link Hjørland's (2002) four epistemological positions with information seeking practices. For example, in the

"School of Historicism," background knowledge about preunderstandings, theories, conceptions, contexts, historical developments, and evolutionary perspectives are considered to be relevant, whereas "low priority is given to decontextualized data of which the meanings cannot be interpreted, and intersubjectively controlled data are often seen as trivia" (Hjørland, 2002, p. 269). Such a description aptly informs us about the nature of research within the school, and about the context of information seeking, but provides little guidance of how and where scholars would seek information.

Extending understanding of domain factors

Taking the domain analytic approach, Talja and Maula's

(2003) study explored how the use and non-use of ejournals and databases is related field variation in scholars' search methods. The empirical data was gathered as part of a qualitative study exploring scholars' use of networked resources across four disciplines (nursing science, literature/cultural studies, history, and ecological environmental science). They concluded that variation in scholars' search methods can be explained by domain factors such as:

 density of the universe of topically relevant documents, the amount of topically relevant documents available in the field or search space relative to all materials in that area

(Bates, 2002)

 the degree of scatter (cf. Mote, 1962; Packer &

Soergel, 1979)

 primary relevance

(topical/paradigmatic), and criteria


 book versus article orientation.

Talja and Maula's study makes a valuable contribution to the domain analytic approach by showing how information practices and the use of electronic resources are linked to features of the universe of documents in a domain. In doing so it also initiates the development of an explanatory model. However, the model lacks consideration of the social organization and institutional contexts of scholarly activity, and does not provide a complete account. Like many models, it is difficult to measure some of the concepts (such as scatter and primary relevance criteria), and to specify the relationships between them, which can limit applicability.

Cultural differences within disciplines

Fry (2003) argues that to fully understand the mutual interaction between cultures of intellectual fields and the use of networked information resources, any explanatory framework must be based upon the specialist field as the primary unit of analysis, rather than the discipline. Fry's

(2003) study, based on in-depth case studies of highenergy physics, social/cultural geography, and corpusbased linguistics, shows that specialist field configurations play an important role in the shaping of information practices. Specialisms within the same discipline can develop patterns of e-journal use or non-use that are quite distinct from other specialisms within the same discipline, and yet can be similar to specialisms in other disciplines. Therefore, not only do patterns of ejournal use vary across disciplines, but also within disciplines.

The taxonomy of disciplinary cultures developed by

Becher (2000) is a good example of the limitations of broad disciplinary groupings as the unit of analysis for investigating patterns of e-journal usage. Combining epistemological and social considerations, his taxonomy

(summarized in table 1) is based upon the extent to which the research object in a discipline is hard/soft or pure/applied and the nature of the resulting cultural identity.

Becher’s taxonomy is a useful indicator of general disciplinary differences, but it is limited in its usefulness as an explanatory tool due to the coarse-grained level of aggregation. It is important to recognize this limitation since, as Becher himself has acknowledged, specialisms within the same discipline may have very little in common culturally, but share more cultural similarities with specialisms across disciplinary boundaries. The limitations of discipline-based analyses are particularly important in the context of multi-paradigmatic fields and trans-epistemic arenas, as they simply disappear in the interstices between broad categories.

Table 1: Becher's matrix of disciplinary cultures (adapted from Becher 1987)

Hard Soft

Physical sciences: ‘hard-pure’ knowledge structure (e.g. physics)

Disciplinary culture: cumulative, atomistic; concerned with universals, quantities, simplification; resulting in discovery/explanation.

Applied sciences: ‘hard-applied’ knowledge structure (e.g. mechanical engineering)

Disciplinary culture: purposive, pragmatic

(know-how via hard knowledge); concerned with mastery of physical environment; resulting in products and techniques.

Humanities and pure social sciences:

‘soft-pure’ knowledge structure (e.g. history)

Disciplinary culture: reiterative, holistic; concerned with particulars, qualities, complication; resulting in understanding/interpretation.

Applied social sciences ‘soft-applied’ knowledge structure (e.g. education)

Disciplinary culture: functional, utilitarian

(know-how via soft knowledge); concerned with enhancement of [semi-] professional practice; resulting in protocols and procedures.


For example, within Becher's taxonomy the discipline of geography would be classified as a physical science.

However, within geography there are two major subdisciplines: physical geography and human geography.

Each is further divided into specialisms. One such specialism is social/cultural geography. The cultural identity of this field differs greatly from the more physically oriented geography fields strongly represented within geography departments. As a multi-paradigmatic field, social/cultural geography overlaps with anthropology and sociology, and falls between the humanities and pure social sciences and the applied social science categories within Becher’s taxonomy. For information seeking, social/cultural geographers use journals produced within anthropology and sociology more than core geography journals (Fry, 2003). However, when it comes to publishing and establishing their reputations, they disseminate their research in journals produced within geography. The fact that the parent discipline of geography remains the key audience for social/cultural geography indicates that it is a multiparadigmatic, rather than trans-epistemic specialism.

Fields that fall into the same category in Becher's taxonomy of disciplinary cultures can thus have quite different styles of communication and patterns of information seeking, and fields that fall into different categories may have similar patterns of communication and information seeking. This makes a strong case that for studies of e-journal usage, the specialist field is the most appropriate unit of analysis. Therefore, we now turn to

Whitley's (2000) theory as an explanatory model of ejournal usage within specialist fields.

We explore Whitley's model as a superstructure under which factors related to patterns of information seeking and e-journal use, such as scatter, density of the universe of relevant literature, and topical versus paradigmatic relevance, can be placed in the context of epistemological and social considerations within fields. Whitley's model is advantageous, because his taxonomy allows for finegrained analysis at the level of the specialist field, but can also be used for coarser-grained analysis at the level of the discipline.

Integrating epistemic and social considerations: Whitley’s theory

Coming from an organizational management perspective, Whitley (2000) argues that the epistemic and social organization of scholarly fields can be conceptualized along the axes of ‘task uncertainty’ and

‘mutual dependence.’ The explanatory strength of these two concepts is that together they integrate epistemological and social considerations of intellectual fields.

‘Mutual dependence’ relates to the extent to which a field is dependent upon knowledge produced in other fields in order to make a significant contribution to science, and also to the degree of ‘mutual dependence’ between scientists. For example, the extent to which scientists are required to show how their work is connected to the work of others varies greatly across specialist fields. In fields with high levels of mutual dependence, scholars are dependent upon particular groups of colleagues to make competent contributions to collective scientific goals and acquire prestigious reputations that lead to material rewards. ‘Mutual dependence’ also accounts for the extent to which a field adopts evaluation criteria and standards from other fields for the assessment of work, rather than developing its own criteria.

‘Task uncertainty’ refers to the degree to which task outcomes and research processes are predictable, visible, and clearly related to general goals. Whitley argues that because the sciences are committed at an institutional level to produce novel results, research activities are uncertain compared to other work activities in that outcomes are not repetitious and highly predictable. The production and recognition of new knowledge depends on the existence and structure of current knowledge and expectations. The more systematic, general, and precise is existing knowledge, the clearer results will be in terms of their novelty and significance for the common stock of knowledge. Task outcomes in scientific fields where such knowledge is shared widely and organized into a relatively coherent system will tend to be more predictable, with implications drawn more easily, than in fields where the amount and coherence of existing knowledge shared between scholars is not so great.

Variation in the extent to which work procedures, problem definitions, and theoretical goals are shared between scholars, and are clearly articulated, are thus related to the degree of task uncertainty in scientific fields.

The advantage of Whitley’s taxonomy over the analyses reviewed in this paper is its thoroughness in explaining the multidimensionality of scientific activity. This makes it an effective tool for explaining differences in patterns of behavior and adoption of networked resources across specialist fields.

In his theory Whitley divides mutual dependence further into strategic and functional, and task uncertainty into strategic and technical. Strategic aspects tend to relate to social considerations such as reputation building, while functional and technical aspects relate to epistemic considerations based on the research object. A high degree of either aspect of mutual dependence or task uncertainty is unlikely to be accompanied by a very low


degree of its related aspect. For example, it is unlikely that a field will have a high level of functional mutual dependence, but a low level of strategic mutual dependence. Whitley cites Sociology as an example of a discipline that has a low degree of both strategic and functional mutual dependence coupled with a high degree of both strategic and technical task uncertainty. He gives

Twentieth century physics is an example of a field with a high degree of both strategic and functional mutual dependence coupled with a low degree of both strategic and technical task uncertainty.

Due to limitations in space, we cannot explore all the cultural configurations possible using Whitley's theory in the scope of this paper. Instead, the discussion is based on the aggregate level of mutual dependence and task uncertainty.

Whitley's theory in the context information seeking and e-journal use of

We have chosen to illustrate Whitley's theory by comparing fields that have the opposing identities of a high degree of mutual dependence and low degree of task uncertainty and vice versa (see tables 2 and 3 below). This categorisation should not be read as the familiar distinction made between the natural sciences and humanities, rather Whitley can, and should, be used to compare specialisms within and across disciplines and disciplinary groupings. Table 2 highlights some of the key dimensions of Whitley's theory as they relate to research and communication practices.

Table 2. Summary of Whitley's theory as it relates to research and communication practices

Cultural identity High mutual dependence and low task uncertainty

Low mutual dependence and high task uncertainty

Domain boundaries

Research object

Research problems and topics

Research techniques



(Diversity of audiences for intellectual products)

Reporting systems and language

Clearly delineated and not vulnerable to tribal skirmishes.

Stable; single paradigm.

Admissible problems highly restricted in type and conception. Deviant formulations are likely to be ignored.

Standardized. Well-established set of research techniques. Success easy to determine. Contributions which do not clearly fit in with existing knowledge and do not rely on similar techniques, methods, and materials as specialist colleagues' are unlikely to be published.

Unclear and subject to disagreements; considerable mobility between topics and areas.

Conceived in different ways and not standardized; multiple paradigms

(theoretical pluralism).

Uncertainty about intellectual priorities.

Large number of different sorts of problems, and different views about how they should be best conceived.

Not standardized. Highly tacit, personal and fluid, or tied to particular topics and research areas. Not very obvious when particular methods should be used, nor when these have been applied successfully. Less reputational control over research strategies and procedures.

Not too difficult to discern and agree on. Ambiguous and subject to a variety of conflicting interpretations.

Audience variety is low. Scientists are more reliant upon a particular group of colleagues for reputations and access to resources. They have to adhere to particular standards of competence and significance criteria if they are to be awarded important reputations for their contributions.

The language in which contributions are expressed is required to be specific and detailed, impersonal and formally structured.

Audience variety is high. Scientists are not greatly concerned with persuading colleagues of the superiority of their approach to collective goals and do not seek to coordinate their strategies with others. Reputation building may not only be dependent on specialist colleagues, but also "lay" audiences.

Languages for convincing colleagues are more personal and variable. Style has to be tailored to the particular message being communicated, and the audience being addressed. Presentation style affects collective assessments.


Cultural identity High mutual dependence and low task uncertainty

Low mutual dependence and high task uncertainty


(Covers the concepts and vocabulary used to describe phenomena and task outcomes)

Style of writing

Technical terms dominate the communication system and lay concepts are excluded. Strong control over descriptive terms.

Research can be effectively communicated in a short space through esoteric and standardized symbol systems.

Importance of visual representations, e.g. graphs and formulae.

Descriptive terms are very close to common sense and subject to multiple interpretations. It is difficult to reduce ambiguity sufficiently to effectively control descriptive terms. The development of standardized and esoteric terminology is threatened by alternative usages by competing groups.

Primarily narrative based (also descriptive statistics are communicated through graphs). Presentation has to be more elaborate to justify the particular interpretation being put forward. Articles are longer and often work is communicated through books.

Table 3 below extends the key elements of Whitley's theory to the realm of information practices by linking them with factors that directly explain e-journal use patterns. Essentially, the suggested relationships are hypotheses to be tested further in subsequent studies.

Table 3. Implications of Whitley's dimensions for information practices

Features of the Universe of Documents

High mutual dependence and low task uncertainty

Low mutual dependence and high task uncertainty

Literature review

Density of relevant literature


Primary relevance criterion

Primary search method

Book versus article orientation

Formalized; requirement to demonstrate how the contribution fits in with existing research.

Due to the relative stability of the research object the density of topically relevant literature is lower.

Relevant material is concentrated within core disciplinary resources.

Topical relevance. Searches are more focused on the phenomenon or substance being studied rather than a particular philosophical or methodological perspective.

Directed searching. searching. Conducting descriptor-based subject searches in databases whose materials have been indexed, catalogued, and classified.

Predominant reliance on articles, centralized resources such as preprint archives, conference papers, and resources developed in collaborative projects. Preference for ejournals.

Based on choice of theory and discourse communities; researchers are able to make contributions to a variety of goals without needing to incorporate specific results and ideas to existing literature in the field in a systematic way. Heavy reliance on personal informal networks in reputation building, and in choice and interpretation of literature.

Due to the relative instability of the research object there is a greater density in the universe of topically relevant documents.

Relevant material can be found and is produced across diverse fields and resources.

Paradigmatic relevance. Scholars attach their search strategies more to particular conversations or paradigms. The choice of theories or methodological approaches limits or widens the range of materials considered as relevant independently of the topic or phenomenon being studied.

Chaining from seed documents and directed or semi-directed browsing. Difficulty to rely on traditional documentary languages that do not map the structure of scientific conversations related to a particular topic.

Books, articles, conference papers, newspapers, grey literature, and decentralized locally produced web based resources are used.

Valuing print-based journals, as much as, or more than, e-journals.


Information seeking practices where the degree of mutual dependence is high and task uncertainty low

In fields with a high degree of mutual dependence and a low degree of task uncertainty all conditions exist where the research object, research techniques, and significance criteria are highly coordinated. Correspondingly, the communication system and information practices will also be relatively highly coordinated and conformity to communicative norms will be high. It will be important to embed research outcomes within the context of existing literature. Failure to conform to the significance criteria, research techniques, and presentation style of the field will lead to exclusion from the field. The maintenance of coordination and conformity to the communicative norms will be enabled because these fields are, by and large, single paradigm fields. This means that they have a stable research object and relatively uncontested field boundaries. This means that scatter of literature is limited and material is focused within the organizational boundaries and core journals of the field. In fields with high levels of mutual dependence and low degree of task uncertainty, topical relevance is likely to be the primary relevance criterion, and directed searching the primary search method.

Information seeking practices where the degree of mutual dependence is low and task uncertainty is high

In those fields where the degree of mutual dependence is low, but the degree of task uncertainty is high, the research object, research techniques, and significance criteria are only minimally coordinated. Boundary skirmishes may be common and research topics, goals, and priorities may be pluralistic and individualistic. In such fields, the communication system will be less coordinated, and document surrogates (e.g., indexing terms) may be experienced as equally contested as the research object, research techniques and significance criteria (cf.

Talja, 2002). In multi-paradigmatic fields, where research problems can be approached from diverse perspectives, information seekers commonly attach their search strategies to particular conversations (Tuominen et al.,

2003). Rather than using directed searching based on topic, paradigmatic relevance is often the primary relevance criterion.

Density in the universe of relevant literature

(overabundance of topically relevant materials) means that scholars rely heavily on chaining and informal networks in the identification of relevant documents

(Bates, 2002). The usefulness of e-journals and aggregated e-journal databases may be limited, and these systems are likely to be adopted and used in an ad-hoc localized manner.

Trans-epistemic fields can also have high levels of mutual dependence. Shifts along this axis will have consequences for information seeking practices. For example, theoretical nursing science is a trans-epistemic field with high levels of mutual dependence and relatively high levels of task uncertainty. Relevant literature is scattered across fields such as education, psychology, medicine, and sociology. Therefore, nursing scientists conduct systematic directed searches in aggregated ejournal databases to validate their findings and to embed their contributions within the existing knowledge base

(Talja & Maula, 2003).


In summary, Whitley's taxonomy enables us to understand why "topic" and "systematic literature review" are entirely different concepts in different fields. These differences are also the key to understanding differences in search strategies.

In their article on collaborative information synthesis, Blake and Pratt (2002) argue that

"scientists should make the methods that they use to identify, extract, and analyze information explicit, rigorous, non-biased, and repeatable." They go on to assert that such traits "are not only the cornerstone of systematic review of biomedical literature," but also "are true of good scientists in other disciplines." Using

Whitley's theory, we have shown why such prescriptive statements are inappropriate for the domain-analytic approach. Whitley's theory enables us to understand that when the degree of task uncertainty is high within a specialism there are disputes about how problems and topics should be best conceived. When task uncertainty is high, research procedures are not standardized or routinized, either. Therefore, earlier contributions or results cannot necessarily be easily fitted with the chosen approach, and the results of diverse studies are not necessary comparable.

For example, if we compare a topic such as "computer gaming" from media and cultural studies with a single paradigm topic such as "deep in-elastic scattering" from high-energy physics, we can see that the research object is more unstable in "computer gaming," because it can be interpreted from a number of disciplinary perspectives, such as psychology and internet research, whereas "deep in-elastic scattering" will only be worked on by highenergy physicists. In media and cultural studies the document universe is diffuse across a number of disciplinary resources, and this can result in information overload making it less necessary, or useful, to conduct directed searches. For topics such as "deep in-elastic


scattering" the amount of relevant literature is limited and centralized within the core disciplinary journals. This means that researchers rely predominantly on specialist resources such as the HEP segment of arXiv.org, and they have no need to look to resources outside of the field (Fry,



In this paper, we suggested that Whitley's theory is applicable to understanding and predicting the uptake of electronic journals. The hypothesis we developed is shown in figure 1. We proposed that fields where the level of mutual dependence is high have a tightly controlled research culture because of the need to agree over significance criteria and what is considered as a valid contribution to the field. Such fields will also have a tightly controlled communication system. These fields are likely to develop a coherent field-based strategy for the uptake and use of e-journals, whereas domains with a lower degree of mutual dependence, and a pluralistic and loosely organized research culture, will appropriate ejournals in an ad-hoc localized manner.

We have presented a number of testable hypotheses, however, we have not yet operationalized Whitley's theory in a rigorous way. Concepts such as "mutual dependence" and "task uncertainty" are relative concepts and as such are difficult to measure in a quantitative manner. Work still remains to be done in developing research instruments for operationalizing the concepts.

Explanatory models such as the one presented here are helpful, however, for planning better and more finegrained survey instruments, and for understanding and explaining the results of quantitative studies.

Figure 1. Whitley's dimensions and e-journal use patterns

High degree of mutual dependence and low degree of task uncertainty

Greater reliance on directed searching and greater likelihood of use of aggregated e-journal databases

Low degree of mutual dependence and high degree of task uncertainty

Decreased reliance on directed searching and decreased likelihood of use of aggregated e-journal databases


In using Whitley to map and predict patterns of information seeking across scientific fields, we are attempting to move away from the trend in comparative research that uses the physical science communication model as the 'gold standard,' and compares the applied sciences, social sciences, and humanities to that model- showing them to be 'second cousins' who will, given time, adopt a more rational approach and attitude towards information seeking and the use of e-journals. Using an explanatory tool such as Whitley, which allows both epistemological and social considerations to be taken into account, we can develop a richer understanding of the cultural shaping of scholarly communication in the digital realm across all scholarly fields, and will not have to implicitly rely on the physical sciences model of communication as an analytical framework in comparative studies.

By discussing the appropriate unit of analysis in domain analytic studies we have argued that while the discipline is an important organizational formation for administration, education, training and reputational building, it is the specialist field around which knowledge producing communities converge and research practices are formed. Therefore, it is the particular cultural identity of the specialism that shapes patterns of scholarly communication and information seeking practices, even more than the discipline. To this end information science must recognize and reflect in its own practices the knowledge producing formations of scholars, rather than clinging to overly coarse-grained analyses that better suit the conveniences of data gathering than the scholarly communities that we endeavor to serve.

We argue that as the epistemic and social home of knowledge producing communities, the specialist field is the most relevant unit of analysis to information science.

This is critical to recognize more so than ever before given the opportunity provided by ICTs to enable access to information resources to a scale and diversity


previously unimaginable. Now is the time to reconceptualize our intellectual approaches to domains, specialisms, and research areas in order to develop


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