Dervin's Sense-Making Theory

Dervin's Sense-Making Theory

Brenda Dervin
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8156-9.ch004
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Dervin's Sense-Making Methodology (SMM) has been frequently referred to and used as a substantive theory, particularly so in the field of Information Science. Yet, SMM was not developed as a substantive theory but rather as a philosophically informed methodological approach for attending to (and researching) human sense-making and sense-unmaking. In the field of Information Science, this “theoretical approach” has been most frequently used to explicate and study variable analytic measures categorized as information needs, seeking, and use. In its uses, SMM can be termed depending on context as theory, as well as meta-theory, methodology, and method. All of these perspectives are relevant to the purposes of this chapter - to position SMM within the Information Science field in terms of its historical origins and to describe how it's positioning as meta-theory, methodology, and method has had applications to the study of information needs, seeking, and use, and to substantive theorizing.
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Sense-Making And Its Historial Origin

Dervin graduated with a PhD in communication research from Michigan State University in 1971. Michigan State was one of the first US universities to formalize the study of communication. (Dervin & Reinhard, 2010) Then, as now, a major thrust in the emerging field's attentions focused on societal problems. In the 1970s US context, primary among the designated societal problems was poverty and Dervin's work at this point specialized in the media and communication behaviors of the US urban poor (Greenberg & Dervin, 1970). It was this specialty that led to her first academic position at the then Syracuse University School of Library Science. In some ways, this was a formative accident because, on the one hand, there were not yet many communication departments; and on the other, with increasing pressures in the US for public services to attend to the needs of the “poor” and burgeoning immigrant communities, Dervin's specialty was in high demand in public service contexts.

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