Transitions theory and liminality in information behaviour research

Rebekah Willson (Department of Computer and Information Sciences, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Publication date: 8 July 2019



Transitions – as a focus of study – have been missing from information behaviour research. The purpose of this paper is to explore the topic of transitions – their characteristics and influences, the related concept of liminality and Transitions Theory – and what it can contribute to the field of information behaviour. This exploration includes the application of liminality and Transitions Theory to an empirical study of participants making the transition from doctoral student to early career academic.


In addition to an extended literature review, this paper reports on a qualitative study that used constructivist grounded theory methodology for data collection and analysis. Early career academics were followed for a five- to seven-month period and data were collected using interviews and “check-ins”. Transitions Theory and liminality were used to guide the analysis.


Three important findings were highlighted: the complicating effects of being in a liminal space on information behaviour; the changing information needs of those undergoing a transition; and the importance of comparison as a way of using information to understand new situations. A revised model of Transitions Theory (Meleis et al., 2000) is also proposed, to incorporate information behaviour.


This paper demonstrates that by examining information behaviour over longer periods of time and by making transitions a focus of research, new understandings and insight can be gained into what information individual needs, how they find, share and use that information. This research demonstrates that information behaviour research adds important elements to the study of transitions and, conversely, that transitions (and Transitions Theory) add important elements to the study of information behaviour.



Willson, R. (2019), "Transitions theory and liminality in information behaviour research", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 75 No. 4, pp. 838-856.

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