This paper explores the role of paradigms in information retrieval research. The nature of a paradigm is outlined and the fundamental sense of a paradigm as an exemplar is identified. The applicability of the paradigm concept to a multi‐disciplinary field such as information science is discussed and it is concluded that paradigms can be a legitimate feature of information science though they may not be connected with the development of normal science. The features of two paradigms operating in information retrieval research, (1) the physical paradigm and (2) the cognitive paradigm are outlined, and their origins, nature and role examined. It is argued that although most work in information retrieval research takes place within the physical and cognitive paradigms, neither provides the basis for a powerful paradigm directed science. An explanation for the failure to develop a powerful body of theory articulated within a well developed paradigmatic framework is offered with reference to the inherent categorial duality of the field.
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