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“What’ s wrong with that woman?” – Positioning Theory and Information-Seeking Behaviour
FIMS Presentations
  • Pamela J. McKenzie, University of Western Ontario
  • Robert Gene Carey
Document Type
Conference Proceeding
Publication Date

Abstract We offer social positioning theory (Davies and Harre 1990) as a framework for exploring the ways in which the visibility of an individual’ s health status is linked to socially constructed subjectivities that can affect the individual’ s informationseeking behaviour. Qualitative analysis of data from two doctoral studies (collected through participant observation and 40 semi-structured interviews) illustrates the utility of social positioning theory as a framework for studying two specific health contexts: systematic lupus erythematosus, and twin pregnancy. Adopting a ‘ position’ involves the use of discursive practices which define the relations between self and others. Such practices frequently draw upon common social representations of particular phenomena (Van Langehove and Harre 1994). Our findings indicate that the visibility of health status is related to subject positioning, and that positioning theory offers insight into the mutually specifying correspondence between local discursive practices and styles of information behavior. The pregnant woman’ s expanding abdomen makes her health status evident to others, often positioning her as a willing recipient of advice and information (Browner and Press 1997). Cultural assumptions associated with “ twins” can both facilitate and constrain the woman’ s information seeking (“ Better you than me.” ). However, the stock of shared cultural understandings associated with lupus is comparatively sparse (Senecal 1991). Symptoms such as hair loss, skin rash, and weight gain may therefore lead to positions which are experienced by novice patients as stigmatizing (“ What’ s wrong with that woman?” ). Even when evident symptoms disappear, the stigmatized position can be maintained through secrecy (“ No one can tell I have lupus.” ). In these situations, information-seeking is relegated to the confidential encounters characteristic of expert disciplinary regimes. As a heuristic tool, then, positioning theory provides an opportunity for analysis of the means by which the information-seeking subject is configured through discursive encounters.


The Diverse Domain of Information Science; 28th Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Information Science; School of Library & Information Studies, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, May 28-30, 2000.

Citation Information
Pamela J. McKenzie and Robert Gene Carey. "“What’ s wrong with that woman?” – Positioning Theory and Information-Seeking Behaviour" (2000)
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