Small worlds, lifeworlds, and information: The ramifications of the information behaviours of social groups in public policy and the public sphere

Gary Burnett, Paul T. Jaeger

Introduction. This paper attempts to build bridges between two sets of theoretical concepts related to information behaviours: the macro-level concepts of Jürgen Habermas related to lifeworlds and the micro-level concepts of Elfreda Chatman related to small worlds. Argument. Habermas and Chatman explored similar issues of information behaviours at different levels of society. Each conceptualized the ways in which the access, exchange, and communication of social and political information shaped society. The two approaches can be seen as complementary tools that, in combination, may be able to provide a better approach to explicating the access and exchange of social and political information in society. Development. This paper first examines the elements of these theories and their relationship to social and political information. It then explores the connections between these two sets of concepts and how, when used in conjunction, they may help to illuminate our understanding of information behaviours related to information in the public sphere. The combined use of these concepts is demonstrated in relation to Internet-based forums of political discussion. Conclusion. The uses for these concepts in unison have utility not only in terms of abstract notions of information behaviour but in understanding the influence of public policy on public discourse.