Thursday 2 September 2021

When ‘The Difference That Makes a Difference’ Makes a Difference: A Bottom-Up Approach to the Study of Information

 Magnus Ramage and I had this paper published in the MDPI journal Information earlier this year.

Chapman, David, and Magnus Ramage. 2021. "When ‘The Difference That Makes a Difference’ Makes a Difference: A Bottom-Up Approach to the Study of Information" Information 12, no. 2: 77.

We thought of it as something in the nature 'rounding off' the DTMD project, as our DTMD group at the Open University has morphed into the Critical Information Studies group, now chaired by Dr Mustafa Ali.

Here's the paper abstract:

The concept of information is foundational to many disciplines yet also problematic and contested. This article contributes to the understanding of information through discussion of the findings of the interdisciplinary Difference That Makes a Difference (DTMD) project. DTMD used international conferences and workshops to bring together individuals from a wide range of disciplines to share how their field understands information, to engage in interdisciplinary conversations, and to contribute to edited publications. A simple answer to the question ‘what is information?’ is not forthcoming, but, it is argued, should no more be expected than would be an answer to ‘what is matter?’. Nevertheless, through exploration of the areas of consensus that emerged from the bottom-up process of interdisciplinary dialogue, this paper offers ten assertions about the nature of information narratives for further debate. The assertions range from ‘information requires a body’, through ‘information always has meaning’ and ‘information cannot be stored or communicated’ to ‘information is always shaped by power, authority and hierarchy’. This article finishes by illustrating and testing the assertions against an information case study of a team of medical experts disseminating information to the general public about the COVID-19 virus. 

The most controversial assertion in this paper, arguably, is that information cannot be stored or communicated. Before you dismiss that, dear reader, please read the paper!

I'm now retired so I'm not sure whether and how much I will continue my interest in developing an understanding of the nature of information, though I don't suppose I'll ever stop thinking about it. As it said on an OU colleague's coffee mug: old professors never die, they just lose their faculties.

No comments: