Document phenomenology: a framework for holistic analysis

Tim Gorichanaz, Kiersten F. Latham
  • Journal of Documentation, October 2016, Emerald
  • DOI: 10.1108/jd-01-2016-0007

What makes a document? Exploring the human and object aspects of documents

What is it about?

In everyday life we think of "documents" as text on paper, but almost anything can be a document. Maps, digital files, artwork... When it comes down to it, a document is something that a human makes meaning with. So part of the person goes into making the document. This paper explores the different aspects from the person and from the object that contribute to forming what we experience as a document. Both the person and the object contribute things that are "internal" and "external" of themselves to the document. Examples: person-internal feelings; person-external social norms; object-internal color; object-external newspaper article written about it.

Why is it important?

Increasingly, we live in a document society. To understand our situation and continue to improve lives, we need to understand what this means. Commensurately, there is a resurgence of scholarly interest in documents as a sort of umbrella concept that brings together things that have been siloed in different academic departments (film studies, museum studies, literary studies, information science, history, science and technology...). Much of this research has been sociological, providing a God's eye view of document-related phenomena, or technological, providing a mechanistic view, but we have so far been missing the view of direct human experience. Human experience is at once so close (we all have it) but so far (we often don't notice it!). This paper figures in an emerging line of scholarly conversation on the human experience of documents.


Mr Tim Gorichanaz
Drexel University

My academic background includes Spanish, advertising, ESL instruction, art history, linguistics and information studies. My research includes endurance running, literary reading, religious reading and artwork. The document gives me a conceptual way to bring these diverse threads together. In my life I write and read novels, make and engage with art, and practice and listen to music. These personal interests have made it abundantly clear that there is a depth to documents that scholarship has been reluctant to embrace—one that is not captured in the traditional concepts of information and aboutness. For the sake of our world, I'm trying to change that.

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The following have contributed to this page: Mr Tim Gorichanaz and Dr Kiersten F Latham