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Title:LIS Education and New Conceptions Of Democracy
Author(s):Randall, Ryan
Subject(s):Library and information science education
Abstract:Published sixteen years apart, Christine Pawley’s “Hegemony’s Handmaid? The Library and Information Studies Curriculum from a Class Perspective” (1998) and Mark C. E. Peterson’s “Grassroots and Habermas in West Bend: Some Reflections” (2014) offer compelling guidance for necessary correctives to sustained LIS education practices. Despite their differing conceptual frameworks, these articles share a concern for how the dominant LIS curriculum creates practitioners ill-prepared to conceive of and contend with social issues that persist among the communities served by LIS resources. This paper asserts that the notion of “agonistic democracy” common to theorists of radical democracy like Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe, and Jacques Rancière will assist LIS students in overcoming some of the LIS curriculum’s deficiencies and better anticipate the multiple communities that they will serve. As Pawley convincingly argues, LIS curriculum tends towards pluralism, which “takes the individual as its unit of analysis [with key concepts of] the individual, behavior, conflict of interests, participation, and consensus,” and managerialism, which “takes as its level of analysis the organization [with key concepts of] bureaucracy, elite, rationality, formal vs informal and simple vs complex” (129-130). Rather than recognizing possibly conflicting user needs and motivations, the managerial perspective misapprehends users as data points. For his part, Peterson concludes his retelling of the recent West Bend, WI censorship case by admitting that the library board members “did not understand that our public spaces had been refeudalized,” by which he means that the grounds for debate pervading our society had altered (757). Public universities and public libraries share a history of having their associated costs justified for the larger cause of developing an informed, critically engaged democratic citizenry. This notion of a single citizenry promotes a conception of library users as a single community, particularly when combined with the managerial tendency identified by Pawley. This managerial approach tends to flatten diverse communities by representing the actions of these diverse communities through a single set of usage data, thereby turning multiple communities into a singular community. It’s striking that LIS education has largely ignored the ongoing critique of democratic societies that have occurred in disciplines such as political science, cultural studies, and media and communication studies. Amidst those fields it has become increasingly common to understand communities as fractured—not only as multicultural, but with each of these multiple cultures itself containing divisions. Agonistic democracy proposes an understanding of democracy that not only allows for dissent but insists upon the productive value of disagreement. This paper will outline some of the key aspects of this newer understanding of democracy and how it will help LIS practitioners avoid naive readings of communities such as the one examined in Peterson’s article. If we were taught to conceive of our users as belonging to multiple communities rather than a single one, we would be far more prepared to address diverging perspectives, create appropriate programming, and respond to calls for censorship.
Issue Date:2015-04-11
Series/Report:Proceedings of the 2015 Symposium on LIS Education
Genre:Presentation / Lecture / Speech
Rights Information:Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-06-16

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