“aboutness”

In response to:

Hjørland, Birger.(2001) “Towards a Theory of Aboutness, Subject, Topicality, Theme, Domain, Field, Content … And Relevance.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 52(9): 774-778.

Layne, Sara Shatford. (1994) “Some issues in the indexing of images.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science 45(8): 583-588

I am against the term “aboutness.” I fail to see how it adds anything that “subject” doesn’t cover already and refer to more clearly. Frequently, or perhaps I should say formerly, I have been fond of the ten-cent word when a five-cent word would do. However, buried under acronyms and initialisms, and swimming a sea of vocabulary drawn from many disciplines, I believe that information scientists should be cautious in adding new terms. I would say, this is even more important when the new term is drawn from a frequently used word. Rheme is a bit arcane to me, but once looked up is relatively clear. A rheme being the comment made about a theme (the topic). It pairs well with theme, and I have no quarrel with its use. “Aboutness”, however, seems to obscure more than illuminate.For example, the photograph here could be said to be about loneliness from an artistic perspective, but the subject of the image is a flower. Alternately, I could say that the subjects of this image are loneliness, a flower, etc. However, it feels unnatural to me to say that this image is about a flower, loneliness, etc. I will also note that Layne states the subject may be both of and about, which I am using as support of Hjørland’s rejection of the term. I am interested in hearing argument in support of the term, but as it stands it bothers me. One can only say that something is “the picture of loneliness” metaphorically.

Lapsana apogonoides

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