Library and information science and the positivist paradigm: Some critical reflections
Journal of Librarianship and Information Science
The employment of the positivist paradigm in Library and Information Science (LIS) research is commonplace, by at least those who have cared to declare their research paradigms, especially at masters and doctoral levels of their studies. Inspired by such widespread use of positivism in LIS, this paper interrogates the applicability and appropriateness of this paradigm as a philosophical bearing for LIS researchers. Although the thrust of the paper is to critique the applicability of positivism to LIS research, it is itself not a lampoon on the scientific nature of LIS, neither is it in the interest of the paper to challenge any researchers who have employed positivism in the conduct of their research in the area of LIS. Instead, it is a critical reflection on some of the glaring challenges of employing positivism in LIS research, and warns against falling into the trap of what the author calls “positivist paradigmatic sophistry.” The paper is not prescriptive or conclusive, but opens new opportunities for critically reflecting on the utility of positivism in LIS research, and a more careful use of this paradigm by LIS scholars and researchers. The discussion unfolds by first putting LIS into perspective by way of briefly tracing the development of the sciences through the lens of Comte. It proceeds by way of explaining the nature of LIS in order to put it into perspective and goes on to unpack the concept of a paradigm before zeroing in on positivism as a paradigm of research. The paper finally presents some challenges that are associated with the application of positivism to LIS research. It argues that positivism is largely incompatible with LIS as a social science and concludes by imploring LIS researchers to engage in a deliberative and progressive discourse on whether positivism is appropriate for LIS research.