Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: An evaluation of Gorichanaz, T. (2018) ‘A first-person theory of documentation’

***This essay was written by CityLIS student Alexander Bell in January 2019. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission as part of our CityLIS Writes initiative.***

Mirror, mirror on the wall: introduction

Ever enamoured by our own appearance, our ancestors created mirrors as devises for reflection. To look into the silvery oculus of a mirror is to see returned your own image, with all the detailed physicality and characteristics of your world, hand in hand with your ideas and perceptions. It is no wonder then that mirrors have long been narrative and documentative portals to the self, inner and outer worlds, and different ways of seeing. (Enoch, 2006). The art of self-portraiture by visual artists also has a mirror-like quality, acting as a medium for both performative and documentative experience. This concept has been explored further by Tim Gorichanaz (2018) from the perspective of document theory. ‘A first-person theory of documentation’ is a research paper that explores the experiential process of first-person documentation. The paper illustrates a descriptive theoretical model of documentation and uses it alongside qualitative findings from artists creating self-portraits to analyse the documentation experience. I will be holding up the mirror to this paper, by a way of peering deeper, reflecting upon, and evaluating the original research presented. The interest in this research stems from a desire to further understand documents and forms of information in the domain of Fine Art.

Framing the Mirror: research framework

Research is fundamental to the sharing of information and knowledge in the information disciplines and professions. The journal literature covered in information and library science offers a researcher the opportunities to gain and share experience, best practice, and academic and tacit knowledge. As the information landscape is changing, newer research papers provide opportunities to re-frame thinking on information and document theory. This provides researchers with an oculus through which to experience and understand the increasingly multifaced and interdisciplinary ideas in practice. (Bailin & Grafstein, 2010, p.1-5). Bawden and Robinson (2012, p. 322) state that the range of information research has expanded greatly from the origins of formal research and new, exciting, and novel methods are appearing as we come to further expand the philosophy of information. Research and digital scholarship provide a window to understand new forms of documents and philosophies of information, but it is imperative that researchers evaluate the findings that they encounter. To accomplish this, it is necessary to be able to evaluate research under a critical eye and a detailed framework of questions provides a way of understanding and reflecting on the ideas and findings presented. (Gorman & Clayton, 2005, p. 20). I have chosen to analyse and evaluate Gorichanaz novel research using the critical questions set out in Bawden and Robinson’s (2012, p. 323) research evaluation framework and present them under the following twelve headings.

Research Evaluation Framework:
• Author, qualifications, and publisher
• Purpose of the research
• Background assumptions and theoretical positions
• Research context
• Literature review
• Referencing style and range of appropriateness
• Research methodology
• Data collection method
• Results, conclusions and explanation
• Evidence of bias or undue subjectivity
• Ethical issues
• Style and presentation

A first-person perspective: research paper evaluation

Author, qualifications, and publisher

The research paper ‘A first-person theory of documentation’ is written by academic and professor Tim Gorichanaz. Gorichanaz having received a PhD in Information Studies, is now an assistant teaching professor at Drexel University College of Computing and Informatics, USA. Gorichanaz has published in several journals within the information domain and actively participates in digital scholarship through use of blogging and social media. Gorichanaz’s research is rooted in human experience and he is interested in bringing together concepts such as morality, understanding, and selfhood by studying people’s information experiences and behaviours. His research is predominantly conceptual and qualitative in nature, using descriptive and interpretative methods to examine the arts and explore feelings of wonder and thoughtfulness. (Gorichanaz, 2019a). The paper is published in the Journal of Documentation, which focuses on theories, concepts, models, frameworks and philosophies related to documents and recorded knowledge. This is an appropriate and credible home for the subject of Gorichanaz’s research, firstly because the journal is peer-reviewed for quality, and secondly it encourages submissions and topics from domains that overlap with or lay beyond the realms of library and information science. (Emerald Publishing, 2018).

Purpose of the research

The purpose of the research paper is described clearly from the offset by the use of a structured abstract and the content is indicative of the research carried out. This is a good example of an abstract and it fulfils the ISO standard by providing an abbreviated and accurate representation of the document, without added interpretation or criticism. (ISO, 1976). The purpose of the paper is to define and then visualise a descriptive theoretical model of documentation. This model is then used to present a phenomenological study of art-making and forms an analysis of an experiential, first-person perspective and documentation.

Background assumptions and theoretical positions

The paper takes a theoretical position established through the philosophy of science and information science, and initially establishes a background assumption that most scientific theories entail a third-person and objective perspective. Gorichanaz refers to a text by Elgin (2017) to establish that this theoretical position can only represent certain aspects of any phenomenon and that theory is shifting from that of knowledge to one of understanding. This use of reference strengthens his argument to justify that new theoretical perspectives, like a first-person perspective, can show documents in new ways and open up the possibilities for new knowledge and design across the domains. Gorichanaz does well to not make any pre-suppositions about the reader, and his theoretical position of a more humanistic and understanding approach permeates through his writing and the nature of the research presented. He takes time to discuss the theories he presents and backs them up with a clear theoretical position.

Research context

Gorichanaz provides a strong context for the research and this is displayed initially through the use of an introductory paragraph describing the role of documents. He then goes on to expand and describe current research into first-person documentation. Gorichanaz describes that over the past few decades, scholars are applying document theory to a wide range of lived phenomena, demonstrating that the material, cognitive and cultural are intertwined and documentation is something that is done by everyone. Gorichanaz points to other relevant studies that discuss documentation from an experiential perspective, therefore building on prior work in this area and giving a solid foundation to articulate the rest of the research. (Gorichanaz, 2018, p. 190-193).

Literature review

A literature review forms an essential part of research. To bring back the idea of the mirror, it presents a reflective space in which to explore the current state of knowledge around a given topic of study. It also provides the opportunity to clarify research aims, expand on subject knowledge, form theoretical framework, and contribute to the overall research design. (Pickard, 2013, p. 25-26). Gorichanaz demonstrates two key literature reviews as part of the research process. The first looks at models of documentation, drawing on literature from document theory to hybridize findings into a new illustrative model of documentation. The new model of
documentation is then used to explore art-making as a form of documentation. To situate this study, Gorichanaz second literature review is more comprehensive and looks at texts surrounding art and information behaviour. Both reviews are appropriate to the study, but the second on art and information behaviour provides Gorichanaz with the opportunity to prove the need for his new model. Much of the literature surrounding art and information behaviour addresses information needs and seeking, rather than creation or use. This therefore affirms the gap in research on the creation and use of components of the information communication chain.

Referencing style and range of appropriateness

Gorichanaz uses the Harvard referencing style and a total of seventy-eight references are presented in detail and the correct format at the end of the paper. Referencing and citing acknowledges the ideas, concepts, philosophies and frameworks of original authors and verifies the validity of the arguments and context set out in research. Gorichanaz covers a good range of appropriate references including texts, journal articles and web resources. Using Briet’s (2006) ‘What is documentation’ helps to ground the research in well-established document theory. The context of the research is comprehensive, and references are used to explore philosophies, and results are justified using current literature surrounding practice-led research and art-making as documentation. References should validate and make research credible, and the paper does this well. As Pears and Shields (2016, p. 1-5) state, it is important that references used in research demonstrate wide reading, establish credibility and authority, and enable readers to understand the relevance of the study.

Research methodology

Research conducted in the field of library and information science tends to be orientated towards the improvement of the practice within the profession and the understanding of information and documentation. As such, research can sit within a broad spectrum of domains and cover wide-ranging research methods, from evidence based to conceptual and philosophical. (Wildemuth, 2017). The research methods presented here in Gorichanaz’s paper are clearly identified. The first approach is typical desk research in the form of a literature review, examining existing knowledge, theories, and models of documentation. Secondary to this, case studies informed by phenomenology descriptive study and arts-informed approach are carried out through the means of quantitative data collection and analysis.

The following research question is presented: ‘What is the nature of the lived experience of self-portraiture as a kind of documentation?’

The principles of phenomenology and arts-informed research are commonly used within the field of fine art where complex experimental, material and social processes occur within art creation and the artistic studio practice. (Barrett & Bolt, 2010, p. 1-5). Practice-led research differs from traditional desk research in that the artistic work created is the main result, and the process is informed through the artistic practice and the experience of creating. (Biggs & Karlsson, 2010, p. 27). Although not a common methodology within information science, looking through the lens of arts-informed research in this case is highly justified for Gorichanaz’s paper. It allows the case studies the freedom and framework to fully explore the documentative process of self-portraiture and to quantify the experimentation and experience of art-making.

Data collection method

To investigate art-making as a form of documentation, Gorichanaz uses convenience sampling to recruit visual artists from Philadelphia. The participants are asked to create self-portraits, from which visual and empirical material are then collected. So as to capture as much of the experience as possible, Gorichanaz utilises three different qualitative data collection methods; questionnaires, interviews, and the analysis of created material. (Gorichanaz, 2018, p. 196). Morse (1997, p 26) describes the method of qualitative data collection as a union of four key purposes:

• Comprehending: the phenomenon under study
• Synthesising: a portrait of the phenomenon that acknowledges relationships and links
• Theorising: how and why do these relationships and experiences appear
• Recontextualising: putting the new knowledge about phenomena and experience into context

These four purposes contextualise the method of research that Gorichanaz explores in the paper. The details of chosen data collection methods are devised cohesively and Gorichanaz (2018, p. 197) gives his reasoning as to why these methods are used, using established guidelines from arts-informed research and phenomenology of practice. The art of self-portraiture works in harmony with qualitative data collection as the process of creating a self-portrait is internalised and reflective. The data collection methods used for investigating art-making and working directly with artists is fruitful for Gorichanaz’s research as images can communicate their messages very powerfully. They can carry lots of information and interpretation and the process of artistic creation is thoughtful, experiential and performative. (Rose, 2016, p. 330-331). Therefore, Gorichanaz is able to gather a detailed and diary-like account of the processes and phenomenon occurring during the art-making. This is then used in successful conjunction with the model of documentation formulated earlier in the research to analyse the results.

Results, conclusions and explanation

The results from the qualitative data collection are displayed by the use two tables, through illustrations and critical analysis of the artworks created, and narrative reflections hosted on a website. The first table is a quantitative summary of the empirical material collected from each artist that participated in the study, and it clearly breaks down key details about each artist; their name, chosen medium, number of sessions, session duration and interview length are given. The second table is a quantitative summary of the themes discerned from the artists experiences and is mapped to the new first-person model of documentation that was previously created by Gorichanaz. It takes forward the theoretical position of first-person documentation and themes created such as communicating, memories, mistakes, and thinking by sketching, are mapped in relation to obstacles, foundations and document. These themes are then explored in further detail under subheadings, providing a thematic and accurate analysis of the experience of documentation through self-portraiture. Not all of the original data is shown, but a select few of the narrative results from the artist interviews can be found online at http://selfportraiture.info. (Gorichanaz, 2019b). Like the rest of the research, the results are comprehensive, grounded in the theory of a first-person perspective and show clear evidence of being well thought. Gorichanaz (2018, p.206) concludes that a first-person theory of documentation should be supplementary to established third-person perspective theories and help information professionals to anticipate people’s information needs and be empathic to ways of documenting in different domains. A worthy note is that this research could be used as guidance for information literacy education for artists. One of the artists stated that the qualitative collection methods provided opportunities to consciously think about the reference material being used. (Gorichanaz, 2018, p. 208). Bawden & Robinson (2016a) have stated that we are currently seeing a confluence of pervasive information technologies, multimedia and multisensory interfaces across domains, combining to create documents enveloped in immersive information. These conclusions in the paper are logically drawn and form both a topical interest for the future study of documentation and immersive documents, and a practical use for researchers within the library and information science profession.

Evidence of bias or undue subjectivity

There is no conscious bias presented in the research paper, however, one aspect worth critically evaluating is the review of models of documentation. Gorichanaz presents a new model of first-person documentation, but to get this result he synthesises theories set out in two of his own frameworks created previously. While this is a good use of developing his previous research, the use of other models of documentation may have offered a fresh perspective and influenced the creation of the newer model.

There is a natural and undue subjectivity relating to the interpretation of art. Unlike written narratives, which unfold progressively, art can both present and convey information in either a direct and subjective way. (Marion & Crowder, 2013, p. 3-5). Gorichanaz is careful to avoid this and uses questionnaires and interviews to create a fair account of the experiences of the artists during the art-making process.

Ethical issues

The study of art-making as documentation provides exciting possibilities but can bring challenges and ethical difficulties. Mannay (2016, p. 110) rightly states that working with artists as subjects of experience means that anonymity and confidentiality are almost impossible to guarantee. The use of images and interview data should therefore be continually negotiated with the research participants. This is important to consider because during the documentative process and recording the qualitative interviews, Gorichanaz was invited into the artist’s studio space and targeted questions about memories and reference materials. The act of self-portraiture may be highly personal and emotional, and if the artwork suggests a true likeness, it makes it hard to anonymise the artist as subject. No evidence can be found in the research paper to demonstrate that Gorichanaz considered this, although it can be assumed that as the paper is formed from his dissertation there would have been a disclosure and ethical procedure in place. The second ethical issue to consider is the method of sampling when recruiting artists to take part in the research. The procedure of convenience sampling simply recruits people because they are available, and it is up to the researcher to impose their own criteria for inclusion and exclusion. (Wildemuth, 2010,
p.128). This could pose a problem because it is impossible to determine the range or demographic of artists who participated in the research, and therefore may only reflect one particular kind of information behaviour in artists.

Style and presentation

As the paper is published is the Journal of Documentation, it is fair to assume that the intended audience is researchers interested in documentation and knowledge. Collins (2010) identifies that a good style and presentation of research should reflect the vigour and integrity of the writer as well as allow room for creativity and reflection. This is noted in the paper which is written in an accessible and empathetic style. It is presented in a typical thesis or dissertation framework stating the introduction, literature review, research methodology, results and conclusion. The narrative reads conversationally and Gorichanaz takes time to explain all the elements in detail, particularly theories and terminology, as if the reader is coming across these terms for the first time. The style of research is especially important because it is the first point for the reader to step through the looking glass and begin to explore the world that is presented. Good research considers the style and presentation as a way of connecting with the reader. (Booth et al, 2016, p. 16-19). The paper is successful at presenting a stage for teaching the reader about why the research being carried out is necessary and important.

Who is the fairest of them all?: conclusion

It is fair to say that while art-making and self-portraiture demonstrate skill, experimentation, and expression, the medium allows for a unique form of examination and documentation. Merging the artist and the subject into one, self-portraits have all the allure of a private diary, in that they document something very specific about a time, place, or person. (West, 2004, p. 163). In our visually pervasive society, art is increasingly experiential and immersive, and Gorichanaz’s research forms the basis for exploring how the process of documentation can be modelled through document theory. This is a good paper that makes considerable conceptual contributions to document experience, document theory, and the study of the information behaviour of artists. The research presented in the study also shows that art-informed and phenomenology methods are relevant and of interest to information and library science. Holding up the metaphorical mirror to novel kinds of documents opens the door for more philosophies and by also applying a metaphysical approach, asking what it is to be and exist, we are be able to understand information behaviour and documents in new and exciting ways. (Bawden & Robinson, 2016b).


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About Joseph Dunne-Howrie

I am artist in residence in the MA/MSc Library and Information Science department at City, University of London and module year coordinator for MA/MFA Performative Writing/Vade Mecum at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance.My research interests include intermediality, live performance in digital culture, participatory and immersive theatre, performance documentation, archives, and performative writing.
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