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Hierarchies of action: a concept for library and information science

Bonna Jones (School of Business Information Technology, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 26 July 2011




The purpose of this paper is to bring the concept of a “hierarchy of action”, as it is currently being used in other fields, into library and information science (LIS).


Hierarchy theory is adopted to describe three hierarchies of action, which include the human processes of semantic and social innovation, as well as a system of biological interpretence, from which human processes are thought to have evolved as a development of biosemiosis in nature. By way of example, it is argued that a text is a complex achievement, and hierarchy theory shows how to account for this complexity; the everyday definition of “text” is augmented with accounts from different levels of observation.


The concept of a hierarchy of action enables a person to account for a text as a meaning/symbolic product; include in that account the processes whereby texts are produced and used; and say why these processes are important to the health of the biosphere that is called home.


“Hierarchy of action” has been developed as a concept in biology and ecology; it belongs to a way of thinking whereby human reality, like nature, is construed as dynamical processes operating in symbiotic relationship with each other; it has not yet been adopted in LIS with reference to hierarchy theory and its potential is yet to be explored.



Jones, B. (2011), "Hierarchies of action: a concept for library and information science", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 67 No. 4, pp. 695-709.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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