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Towards structure–agency integrative theories for information access disparity: Lessons from within and beyond LIS

Liangzhi Yu (Department of Information Resource Management, Nankai University, Tianjin, China)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 3 May 2019

Issue publication date: 3 May 2019




Based on the assumption that information access disparity is a highly complex phenomenon demanding integrative explications that heed both structure and agency, the purpose of this paper is to outline the theoretical background against which endeavours to develop such explanations can be planned.


The study is based on a close reading of: existing explanations of information access disparity; research of other library and information science (LIS) issues that have demonstrated conscious attempts to bridge structure and agency; and cross-disciplinary integrative theories that have served as foundations for LIS research. Explanatory power of the first and applicability of the latter two are critically assessed; lessons for future research are drawn.


The examination shows that efforts to develop integrative theories for information access disparity are emerging but remain indistinct; integrative frameworks for other LIS phenomena exist but are developed primarily by adopting concepts from cross-disciplinary theories and are, therefore, both enabled and constrained by them. It also shows that cross-disciplinary integrative theories contribute to LIS by exporting the general integrative theorising approach and a range of specific concepts but, owing to their limitations in dealing with information-specific issues, their adequacy for explaining information access disparity cannot be assumed.


The study demonstrates that a promising way forward for developing integrative theories of information access disparity is to follow the general integrative approach, but to ground related concepts and propositions in empirical data alone, i.e., to begin the journey of integrative theorising theory-free.



This study is funded by the National Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 71273141). The author would like to thank the two referees of this paper for their enormously enlightening comments and detailed suggestions for revision.


Yu, L. (2019), "Towards structure–agency integrative theories for information access disparity: Lessons from within and beyond LIS", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 75 No. 3, pp. 458-477.



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