Radical information literacy

Radical IL book coverRadical Information Literacy, authored by Andrew Whitworth, was published in 2014 by Chandos. A central premise of the book is that the way we teach information management and information skills throughout society — that is, information literacy — has become too skewed towards approaches that reinforce existing authorities, and do not promote scrutiny of practices or claims. A radical view of information literacy would be one focused not on annulling or ignoring authority, but on distributing it more widely, giving all those affected the skills and capacities they need to scrutinise, and if necessary, revise decisions and practices. In short it is an attempt to lay out theories and practices of education for democratic practice in workplaces and in society.

Throughout the book, mapping runs as a theme that brings together two existing schools of thought about information literacy. The first is the educational, phenomenographical approach, promoted particularly by the work of Christine Bruce and colleagues based largely at the Queensland University of Technology, Australia. Here, learners become more information literate when they “experience variation” in their environment, gaining access to a range of different perspectives. The second information literacy school is represented by the work of authors such as Annemaree Lloyd (particularly her 2010 book, Information Literacy Landscapes), and Louise Limberg and colleagues in Sweden. Both groups see information literacy as a fundamental basis of practice; we become literate not in generic ways, but in ways that are specific to context, doing so as we engage with the judgments, experiences, practices and even movements of more experienced practitioners in a setting.

Conceptually then, promoting the variation in perspectives called for by Bruce is akin to helping learners develop their ability to create maps of what Lloyd calls the “information landscape”, as well as to review and scrutinise the authority that is embedded into those maps which already exist and which shape practice.


This sociogram shows the ‘betweenness’ of the social network that linked together staff members at one of our case studies. Larger nodes represent staff members who linked together different clusters of individuals (brokers, in other words).

For example, a traditional organisation chart is a map, one which depicts the organisation as comprised of distinct entities and which has lines of command and control linking up managers and subordinates in a fixed hierarchy. But another way of mapping the relationships within an organisation is to consider the social network, as in the diagram on the right. These networks are also crucial for information flows, with those who occupy key nodes in the network serving as brokers between different groups. Yet if this map does not accord with the formal, hierarchical and managerial view, key brokers, critical points of information exchange, may just not be accounted for when making decisions about practice.

Our project engaged in mapping the information landscapes within organisations in a participatory and inclusive way. The facilitated concept mapping technique allowed different points of view to come together in a single map, without any one being privileged over the others. At the same time, information stewarding practices could be reviewed and scrutinised by all present, and the map itself — the way people think about and work with the resources available in their information landscape — evolve as the result of this collective scrutiny. Thus, the technique is a way of putting into practice the tenets of radical information literacy.