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Cultural Studies Scholar Exposes the Power of Search Engines to Shape Knowledge

December 2nd, 2010 by David Michalski

José van Dijck, Professor of Media and Culture at the University of Amsterdam and current the Dean of
Humanities at that University has recently published an interesting article on the role of search engines, such as Google Scholar, in the production of knowledge. See…

José van Dijck (2010) Search engines and the production of academic knowledge. International Journal of Cultural Studies. v13 n6 574-592.

In the current information environment Van Dijck argues the “task of educating students in information literacy cannot be limited to library and teaching professionals only. Instead, this should be the responsibility of all academics concerned with public values related to the production of knowledge.” (587)

She proposes an expansion of the concept of information literacy, arguing that researchers today need to be aware of the economic, political and socio-cultural dimensions of search engines. “Proprietary search engines” she contends

substantially shape the road from raw data to scholarly knowledge, while rendering essential processes of weighing, evaluating and contextualizing data into black boxes. To turn information into knowledge, students not only need to be socialized into the various stages of the process, but they should also be enabled to critically analyse the tools that help to construct knowledge. (588)

The more vividly search engines and catalogs produce a semblance of disintermediation, it seems, the more important it is for educators to lay bare the forces mediating that semblance.