vol. 13 no. 4, December, 2008


The information condition: information use by archaeologists in labour, work and action

Isto Huvila
Information Studies, Åbo Akademi University, Tavastgatan 13, FI-20500 Åbo, Finland

Introduction. The study discusses the applicability of Arendt's tripartite division of human activity in the context of information use.
Method. Thematic interviews with twenty-five archaeology professionals combining several different interview approaches.
Analysis. The material was analysed using a schema-based, grounded theory approach, using a schema based on discernible patterns in the interview transcripts.
Results. The three types of activities discussed by Arendt: labour, work and action, could be identified. Archaeologists followed procedures to fulfil their formal duties in order to continue their career and support their life (labour), there are things the archaeologists create with an instrumental value (work) and activities, which are primarily directed towards negotiating viewpoints (action).
Conclusions. These findings have implications for understanding motivations of information activity and information use behaviour, and for developing information services.


The choice of information sources and information channels is dependent on multiple factors ranging from broad contextual factors to the personality of an individual (Case 2006). The availability of resources, tasks-in-hand and personal preferences all affect the decision of what is an appropriate information resource and how it is used at any given moment. Besides the immediate explicit constraints and expectations to produce a concrete result such as writing a book or completing a course, implicit instrumental and personal motivations have an impact on the choices (Sonnenwald 1999). These motivations may relate to the 'higher things' discussed by Kari and Hartel (2007) or to more mundane 'lower things' such as earning living and supporting family.

The present study explicates these implicit motivations and renders visible different meanings of information use using a framework based on Hannah Arendt's notion of vita activa. Arendt's tripartite division of human activities is applied to explicating differences in information use. The aim of this study is to demonstrate and discuss how vita activa can be used to explicate different kinds of motivations of using information resources and how the different motivations lead to different kinds of information uses. Implications of the approach and its applications in information science research and practise are discussed. The study draws on an empirical investigation of work and information behaviour of Finnish and Swedish archaeology professionals (thematic interviews, n=25). The aim of the part of the empirical study referred in the present contribution was to investigate how archaeologists use information and what purposes and motivations there are to use different information resources.

Information use

In spite of the rather prevalent consensus that human information behaviour consists of not only information seeking, but also of information use (e.g., Wilson 2000), a deeper concern for understanding usage aspects of human information practises is a relatively new one (Spink and Cole 2006). Information use has been discussed from the perspective of organizations as a part of the context of information seeking (Taylor 1991), but as Choo writes 'information needs and uses studies have added significantly to our appreciation of how people seekinformation' (emphasis added) (Choo 1998: 37), most of the efforts to model and understand human information behaviour have focused on explicating human information seeking behaviour (Savolainen 2006; Fisher et al. 2005; Case 2006). Spink and Cole emphasise an important fact that the entirety of human interactions with information is not merely seeking, but is actually composed of additional components such as organization and use of information resources (Spink and Cole 2006).

Social and cultural contextuality is a central aspect of information activity reflected in the literature (Savolainen 1995; Dervin 1997; Chang and Lee 2001; Solomon 2002; Allen and Wilson 2003) and, for instance, in the name of the Information Seeking in Context conferences. A variety of conceptual tools and approaches has been introduced to grasp the complexity of contextuality. Spink and Cole present a tentative version of an integrated model of the information behaviour, which combines the three typically used approaches: everyday life information seeking, information foraging and problem-solution perspective (Spink and Cole 2006). Other approaches include e.g., task complexity approach (Byström and Järvelin 1995; Byström and Hansen 2005), genre theory (Freund et al. 2006) and the communities of practise perspective (Star et al. 2003; Duguid 2005).

The proposed approaches do, however, tend to lack a broad human life-world scale motivational framework and concentrate on rather specific dimensions of using information within relatively limited contexts of use (i.e., different work contexts or the context of everyday life). Huotari and Chatman (2001) use everyday life information seeking to explicate organizational behaviour. The effect of mundane everyday life aspects and somewhat abstract 'higher things' discussed by Kari and Hartel (2007) might be expected to be as significant as the patterns of congregating around different kinds of information resources, explicit or implicit information related activities and communities in work life and vice versa.

Information use and practices of different professional groups have been discussed broadly in earlier literature (Julien and Duggan 2000; Case 2006), including humanities and social science scholars (e.g., Palmer and Neumann 2002; Talja and Maula 2003; Lännqvist 2003; Dalton and Charnigo 2004). Archaeologists, however, have been studied very little (Huvila 2006: 190) and mostly as academic researchers in investigations of information practices of humanities and social science researchers (e.g., Corkill and Mann 1981; Stone 1982; Lännqvist 2003).

The present paper discusses information use in the broadest possible meaning as to comprise information seeking and retrieval, applications of information to different purposes and the creation, storage and retrieval of information. The specific interest of this paper is in discussing the observable patterns of information use and how these patterns relate to the motivations of using information in different activities.

The human condition

This study refers to the tripartite view of human activity proposed by Arendt in The Human Condition (Arendt 1998), which was first published in 1958 and is, together with Between Past and Future (1961) and On Revolution (1963), one of her central works in the field of political theory (Villa 2000), which also marked a broadening of the focus of her interest from totalitarianism to a field later refered to as political anthropology (Winckler 1969; Brunkhorst 2000). Arendt's idea of vita activaargues for a division of human activities to labour, work and action and for a perception of human-beings respectively as animal laborans, homo faber and zoon politikon. Arendt saw the three activities in a hierarchical relation to each other and considered (essentially political) action to be the most important one, the one which is constituent for being a human-being (Arendt1998 7: 176-177).

Labour is seen as the activity, which corresponds with biological necessities of human life. It is necessary to maintain human existence and life itself. Labour is a never ending pursuit and yields nothing permanent. It needs to be reinstated perpetually and is an unavoidable necessity, which cannot be escaped. Therefore labour is also characterised by non-freedom. According to Arendt, recognising labour as involuntary is a distinctly human quality (Arendt1998 7: 87, 144).

Whereas labour relates to the natural necessities of existence, work is all that is constructed in the human existence. Work is about artificial fabrication of surroundings and building both physical and cultural structures and borders. In comparison to labour, there is an element of freedom in work, although as Arendt sets to argue, there is a degree of instrumental necessity in work. Work is under human control and humans can exhibit their humanity (i.e., not being animals) by working. Unlike labour, work is also public and between individual human beings (Arendt1998 7: 144, 146-147, 160).

The third realm of vita activa, action, differs from work in that it corresponds with full freedom of human activity. Whereas work is instrumental to its goals, possessing a constructed thing, action is not bound by instrumentality. For Arendt, action is characterised by its quality of not being subordinate to anything else. It is not, however, a private activity, but a public one. Human-beings are free to initiate action and as Arendt argues, are free to do so as long they act. Action is unpredictable and can be judged and given meaning only by its public reception (Arendt1998 7: 176-177 180-181, 188).

The vita activa may be seen as a modernistic, and in a sense, a constructionist, ideal of human activity. Human-beings are self responsible for the activities of supporting themselves, constructing and shaping their surroundings and acting in the society in order to satisfy their humaneness. Similarily, it can be seen as a critique of technological consumer society, which measures success in terms of the effectiveness of labour and instrumental work instead of the importance of acting as a human-being. The fundamental themes of plurality and equal rights for action are carried further in the other works by Arendt, especially in the Origins of totalitarianism (1951), which condemned the totalitarian regimes for stripping humanity of its most essential right, the right to the freedom of action and subsequently a right perform its humaneness (Villa2000). Arendt has been criticised for several reasons: of being a political existentialist, who ends up aestheticising action and human initiative (Passerin d'Entréves 1994: 83-100), of immorality and of making a too strict distinction between thinking and acting (Villa 1999: 87).

From an information science point of view, we suggest that the notion of vita activa provides a practicable framework for explicating and distinguishing some of the profound motivations why information is being used, which underlies the level of individual information interactions. Understanding the motivations gives an opportunity to explicate variations and seeming anomalies of information use. Why an individual can be very specific about some information, cautious about something else and likes to present strong arguments on a further issue within a single task?

The standpoint assumed in the present study is essentially a post-modern interpretation of the vita activa. The tripartite division of human activity can be discussed in a life-world scale as Arendt discussed it, albeit recognising the different ways different species and individuals perceive the stage on which they are performing (Arendt 1978: 21-23). We propose, however, that the division is contextual and the three activities can be identified within any given context and situation. Therefore, there can be wider and narrower notions of labour, work and action, and different acts can appear and function as either labour, or work, or action depending on the situation. Further, we suggest that there is always labour, work and action involved in every situation. Labour represents the biological or comparable necessities, work represents structuring and crafting instrumentally useful things and action represents the initiatives, which form the system of social and cultural negotiation manifested in societies, communities and cultures.

Empirical study methods

The present study was conducted in the context of an empirical investigation of the information use of Nordic archaeologists. The material consists of twenty-five thematic interviews of Finnish and Swedish archaeology professionals conducted in 2004. The empirical data were collected by using an adapted version of a semi-structured interviewing called thematic interview. The approach is based on the 'focused interview' of Merton et al. (Hirsjärvi and Hurme 1995: 35-37). The discussions on the different interview themes were informed and structured according to the notions of

  1. Free form thematic discussion and storytelling in the spirit of 'creative interviewing' (Douglas 1985; Fontana and Frey 2000). The informants were asked to tell about their work and what they did when they went to work in the morning.
  2. Active semi-structured interview with the objective of inducing structured reflection in order to inform the interviewer (Holstein and Gubrium 1997).
  3. Reflection (Boud et al. 1985: 37, Fig. 3). The informants were asked to tell about information seeking in a specific case of 'producing' archaeological information.
  4. Semi-structured interview (Fontana and Frey 2000). The interviewees were asked about their motivations and the objectives of their work.
  5. Imagination exercise (Segar et al. 2006: 177). In the exercise the informants were asked to express their wishes and thoughts about information resources, which would be ideal to support their work.

The practical analytical work progressed by constructing a theory on the basis of discernible patterns (schema) in the discussion between the interviewer and the interviewee focusing on formal work duties (what the informants have to do, e.g., write a report, teach a course), their own preferences (e.g., 'I think it is nice to add some anecdotes to spice up my report') and patterns of information use (why some kind of information is used, what is the purpose of using a specific kind of information e.g., 'I had to find out a specific detail', 'I wanted to stress my opinion in this article I wrote') (Strauss 1987; Corbin and Strauss 1990; Ryan and Bernard 2000: 782-784). The following short example illustrates the material and the method of analysis:

Interviewer: What do you do when you come from the field [work back to your office]?

Interviewee: Then I have to write the report {labour, something an informant has to do in order to do his duty} . [...] If analyses have been made I have to wait for the results. [...] And I have to wait for my photos from the development. I have built an Access database I am using when I am writing reports. It's not a thing I have to have, but it is quite practical. {work, instrumental activity} Then there are my notes. I write them up {work, another instance of instrumental activity of writing notes}, compose lists of finds and photos and I write an introduction to that what I got. Last summer I met a guy from Land survey. He got one site description written by me and then I realised how bad it was. [There was nothing formally wrong, but] Thereafter I have tried to make my descriptions better {action, attempt to make a point with writing a report}, that is in the [Access] database, I use to compose my reports.

Interviewer: To whom you have been writing [about your work]? Tell me about writing to different audiences?

Interviewee: It's mostly reports for archaeologists, my colleagues. [...] Then of course, this kind of semi-popular information in articles. [...] I think it is important for the people to know where we have come from and to, sort of, give them background information to answer the question why we are here {action, participation in the social sphere, a felt responsibility}.

Labour, work and action in archaeological information use

Individual archaeologists worked with a great variety and combination of duties. For example, as the study demonstrates an archaeologist might be involved in field work, academic research and infrastructural (in a colloquial substrate-like sense) development [Anna] (each of the 25 individuals were assigned a nickname, which is written inside brackets in citations and references). To exemplify the notions of labour, work and action in the research material, we refer here to two contexts of archaeological information activity discussed with several informants. The first example is about an archaeological investigation report and its compilation. The second one is about giving an archaeological expert opinion on a land use project.

Archaeological investigation report

During a fieldwork project, archaeologists investigate an archaeological site: they document their findings and during a post-investigation phase write up the final archivable versions of their notes. The final stage of an investigation project is to compile a report, which documents the investigation process and its results. Investigation reports are a central information resource in archaeological work. Regardless of their limitations [e.g., Otto, Krista], reports were seen as primary sources of archaeological information on any particular excavation and site [Everyone]. Secondary publications such as journal articles were often seen as abridgements, which do not give enough information on the subject matter. 'They don't necessarily give the facts, the are shorter and more descriptive'. [Carl]

The typical layout of a report is rather similar from one country to another. A report consists of a description of investigation process, a survey of related literature and an interpretation of the results of the investigation. The description is followed by a catalogue of finds unearthed during the project, a list of photographs, plans, drawings and samples. The most important findings are often summarised in a separate short introductory chapter in the beginning of the report.

The process of compiling an archaeological investigation report is complex and incorporates several different hidden objectives. The explicit part of report writing is that it is a part of an investigation process. In practice, writing a report is a necessity expected to be done and the director of investigation is personally responsible for compiling and finishing it. A finished report is generally a prerequisite of getting permissions for new investigation projects and thus pursuing an archaeological career. In this sense as labour, report writing is essentially about following a standard and producing a formally flawless report. For an animal laborans a report is not a permanent product, but a vehicle for earning one's living. As labour, report writing warrants choice of satisfactory rather than best possible information and acceptable rather than an outstanding kind of writing. The prevalence of treating report writing as labour is indicated well by the typical problems of reports and report writing. Many informants complained that they never have time to focus on reports as they would like [e.g., Daniel, Fredrika]. Information use is heavily constricted by the available time and resources and tends to focus on convenient general works. As information sources, reports were said to be important far more often than they were used and actually stated to be useful. A typical comment was: 'I use them less than I could think of' [e.g. Otto, Krista]. The typical problems with reports are that they tend to be too specific on small excavations, too general on large ones and that the reported results are not tied very well into any larger context of reference. On several occasions the reports were stated to be difficult to access, because the consultation required travelling to the capital city or another distant place.

Besides incorporating labour related motivations, a report is also a document, which constructs an idea of a particular investigation process and a site of investigation. Report writing is instrumental to a goal of producing a document and simultaneously an idea of what has been done and what has happened on a particular site. Therefore report writing is also work. One of the informants told how he attempted to capture in the report as much of the stories, remarks and comments gathered in the field while he was conducting a survey of archaeological sites. According to him, this is not a formal requirement, but 'they complete the picture given by the report' [Fredrika]. By adding the additional details, the informant was not fulfilling the requirements of a report, but constructing a complete instrument for understanding the surveyed area and in Arendtian sense, working. The work relatedness of a report is best exemplified by their central role in the archaeological information use, even if they would be of mediocre quality [e.g., Maria, Tommy].

The third aspect of writing a report is that it functions as a public initiative of advocating a new understanding of the human past at a particular site of investigation. In that sense a report is an action, which is judged and evaluated by the public audience of fellow archaeologists and other professionals. A report contains initiatives of how a site should be valued and treated in the future by archaeologists, but also others like land use planners, constructors, land owners, environmental agencies and other public authorities. In information use sense, the action is reflected by the inclusion of references and insights based on the personal experience of the excavating archaeologist.

The action is usually continued and becomes emphasised in journal articles written afterwards. In archaeology, where the monograph has retained its prominence more than in sciences (Huvila 2006), monograph publication of an investigation project can be deemed to be about constructing a site as a subject of the past (i.e., work), whereas a shorter contribution in a journal is more about initiating a discussion (i.e., action).

Opinion on a land use project

A considerable part of the day-to-day archaeological heritage management conducted by national, regional and local archaeological authorities consists of writing reports and statements about land use related matters. According to the interviews, management of archaeological heritage is largely a reactive enterprise [Carl, William]. Decisions and actions are based on existing legislation and administrative guidelines, which are being actively formulated, and simultaneously adapted to the contemporary demands and to an existing consensus on the estimation and understanding of the concept 'cultural heritage' [Anna, Carl, Jaakko, William].

The typical workflow begins with a request for an opinion on a land use project. In the best case, an opinion is sought during the early stages of planning, but as one informant noted, 'frequently the planning is well under way, or at worst, finished before the first contact' [Carl]. The opinion of administrative body is based on existing data on heritage sites in the affected locality. Currently only a small portion of the data has been digitised and inserted into a cultural heritage management system. The background work for an administrative opinion presumes almost always a task of consulting printed archive materials, including earlier research reports and occasionally paying a visit to the actual site. Depending on the initial results, the responsible administrator formulates an opinion. Using that opinion, the administrator may request further investigations or allow the project to proceed under the surveillance of an archaeological supervisor. The fast pace of land use necessitates the continuous effort of assessing and evaluating cultural heritage assets. It is important to be able to make fast, educated decisions about appropriate actions. The inherent complication of the decision making process is that even though some rather well established guidelines do exist for individual decisions, the individual cases are highly context dependent.

The explicit part of an opinion is that it is a neutral and objective expert view of the value of an archaeological site. For the archaeologist, who writes the opinion, the labour of the activity comprises of the actual task of delivering a warranted opinion in time. Even though the sites and monuments authorities would prefer to get involved as early as possible in different construction and land use projects, typically the authorities are first approached during the final stages of planning. In many cases first contact is initiated by the archaeological heritage authorities themselves after learning about the plans from the public media [Carl, William]. In the sense of labour, the requirement of writing an opinion is that it gives a justified instructions on how to proceed from the archaeological point of view. The labour of opinion writing tends to direct information source use to convenience sources, restricts site visits and focuses information seeking to the most likely sources [Maria, William]. 'It depends on what I am working with, that is, whether I travel to a distant library or not' [Maria].

From the workperspective, writing an opinion is about presenting a set of facts, which either supports or denies that an archaeological site either exists or does not exist. Besides being an instrument for communicating that a site exists, the factual content is also a device for setting a framework for controlling, maintaining and developing it in the future. As an informant noted, there are often conflicting interests between land users and those people who ask for an opinion. People try to use archaeological authorities to call a halt on construction work in their neighbourhood. Some people would like to have an archaeological site in their backyard and some others try to hide the information as well as they can [Carl, Daniel]. The facts presented by an archaeological heritage authority do not have only intellectual meaning, but also considerable practical implications. This guides information use to focus on as indisputable information as possible [Daniel, Maria, William].

As an action, an opinion is about initiating and advocating a distinct view of what is archaeological heritage, what is important from an archaeological point of view and why something should be preserved or not. An informant recognised that whether a site exists or not, it is necessary to tell the truth [Carl]. The truth, however, as he noted, is whether a professional archaeologist 'can recognise anything archaeologically interesting or not'. Even though the opinions are based on formal criteria of what kind of a site is of archaeological interest, the opinion is about advocating an archaeological judgement [Anna, William]. Opinions are a part of a public discussion on heritage, where different advocacies lead opinions and use professionals as experts to assert their sides of the story. Experts have a degree of authority in the public debate, but ultimately the discussion is about actions initiating further actions. As an action, opinion writing warrants detailed theoretically advanced information and comparable parallels from similar earlier cases [Maria, William].


In the present study the notion of vita activa is stripped of its political implications and the hierarchy of importance. We merely suggest that all of activities are significant to a human-being. The implication of vita activa to information use is how it can be used to pinpoint and to make explicit motivations of using or not using information, using information in distinct manners and of choosing a particular kind of information for use. Information related decisions are made and information is used to support labour, work and action.

The relevance of the notion of vita activa depends on how it can be used to explicate human information interactions and information behaviour. In the examples above, the principal contribution of identifying labour, work and action in information activity relates to the possibility of considering the implications of information use and non-use in a broader scope than by referring to closely situated motivations. The notion of work duties is typically a relatively vague question. Some of the formal duties are listed in contract, some of the duties are explicitly or implicitly expected by superiors and colleagues and some duties are expected and known to be inevitable by the individual workers themselves. As one of the informants noted:

...there is a lot you are expected to do before launching an archaeological excavation project, of those there are certain things you can actually manage to do and some others you have to do besides them' [Daniel].

All of these decisions and the compulsory, theoretically compulsory and actually obligatory tasks affect the excavation related information activity. Similarly it is decisive whether certain information resources are needed or not.

Besides the obligatory level of activity and information activity, there are certain things, which are partly voluntary and partly instrumental to activity. Six informants told about databases they had built for processing observations and writing reports [Daniel, Ilona, Maria, Nelli, Otto, Krista]. No one had told them to do so, but the databases helped them to accomplish the obligatory tasks in a way that provided additional benefits for themselves and for those who worked with the report. One of the informants had modelled an archaeological site using a 3D-modelling software. At first, she saw no point in recreating a site as it exists, but gradually during the project she began to see how she had to think about different kinds of aspects of her subject of research in a considerably different manner than she would have done without the model and the modelling work [Anna].

Thirdly, there are aspects of human activity, which are matters of negotiation, initiatives and reconsideration. The notions of past and heritage are socially constructed entities (Jones 2002: 66). An interpretation of an archaeological site is a question of debate as well as its importance even if the professionals try working with as precise and objective (or consensual) criteria as possible [Carl, William]. Simultaneously with being about negotiation, archaeological work is about appearances. Archaeology is a community and a community within humankind, where the archaeologists belong, and they feel a need to belong and to become recognised and given legitimacy to act. There is, however, no external need to negotiate the importance of archaeological heritage or to feel a sense of belonging to a community of archaeologists. Following Arendt, it is an act of practising one's own humanity.

In spite of the archaeological empirical material, the discussed framework is not specific to archaeology. Alexandersson and Limberg (2003) report on a study in a school environment, where the notions of labour, work and action may be discerned. In the study, the general information seeking patterns of elementary and grammar school students were focused on fact finding and assembling a final product (report, booklet or web page). This may be seen as an illustrative example of labour, a thing that has to be done in order to survive in the school context. The preference for having a final product as a goal became emphasised in collaborative work. Finishing a formal assignment became the principal common denominator in the group. Beyond seeing school work as a labour-like endeavour, some of the students considered that the booklet they were producing could be used by others, which indicates at least a tentative instrumental motivation and an interest in creating something in the Arendtian sense of work(Alexandersson and Limberg 2003). Limberg's report of the same study also notes that some of the students demonstrated a genuine interest in the topic they were working on. This directly affected their information activity making it more active, engaged and serious (Limberg 2005). The genuine interest can be deemed either work or action depending on its orientation. If it is work the motivation may be expected to correlate with similar external factors as the one of producing a booklet for others to use. Perceiving genuine interest as work may be assumed to guide information seeking and use to a focus in producing a genuinely good, perhaps a relatively neutral, publication. If the interest is action related, the interest would be more about highlighting one's own contribution and initiative rather than focusing on neutrality and equilibrium of viewpoints.

The implication of explicating this tripartite division of activity, is to penetrate beneath the explicitly expressed temporal motivations. Unlike Arendt, we find it difficult to accept that in the present context of study there would be a hierarchy of importance between the different activities. In practical terms, the information interactions related to an activity identified as a labour, are pursued by an individual in a satisfying manner and the information resources of interest consist of bare necessities and as directly applicable information as possible. The primary interest is in accomplishing activity and information interaction in formal terms. When work is involved, the activity has instrumental value, which is projected also to the related information interactions. The information interaction and required information can be expected to be more complex and the information needs may be satisfied with a broad variety of information as long as the information provides means to attain the goal of constructing a thing. The information activity involved in action may be expected to be even more abstract. The focus is on arguing and initiating something rather than in attaining an immediate goal. The information activity is about socialising, belonging and thriving on an interest or a passion. The immediate benefit of describing information activity in terms of the tripartite view is to be able to understand motivations of information activity. Subsequently, the framework can be used to inform information service providers and information systems designers of what kind of information and systems would benefit the users most in the middle of labour, work and action.

Some care has to be taken when using the Arendt's division of human activity. First, using an essentially political theory to discuss primarily social and practical issue of information use needs has to be done with some caution. As already stated, we cannot accept the Arendtian moral philosophical and political agenda that action would be a higher thing in comparison to other activities. Similarly it is important to perceive the vita activa in the present context of information science research as an analytical division of human activities, not as a directly observable phenomenon or as a political argument having a purpose of its own. Secondly, the notion places a strong emphasis on the salience of human activity and leaves aside other factors such as emotions, intellect and environment. The third issue needing attention is the analysis and explication of different Arendtian activities, which are easy to superimpose on various information interactions. The present study is based on an exhaustive study of the informants' information use. To improve the usability of the framework, other research instruments need to be developed. Finally, the implications of identifying labour, work and action need to be translated to workable suggestions on how to improve these activities.


Information is sought, created and used for a variety of motivational and practical reasons. The contribution of the present paper is to discuss an analytical approach to explicate different kinds of motivations and their relation to information use. In the present study, the different levels of activity were discussed in the context of archaeological investigation reports and opinions on land use projects. The framework is based on Arendt's notion of vita activa and a tripartite view of human activity: necessary and unavoidable labour, creative and instrumental work and action, which relates to the negotiating nature of the social and cultural spheres of human life. Unlike an approach which would identify different levels of interest, the proposed framework addresses also orientation of interest. Labour related information activity is 'mechanical' and directed towards completing formal requirements. In work, there is a genuine instrumental interest to create something, which can be expected to direct information activity to support the production process of an excellent outcome. In action, the focus is on participation, discussion and initiation of activity and viewpoints. The perspective becomes more salient than the outcome.

The proposed approach has potential implications on various different aspects of information science research and practice. Motivations of activity affect information needs, the choice of information resources and judgements about their relevance. Activity affects also information seeking and use, their intensity and breadth. The insights based on the Arendtian framework can be used in providing and planning better information services to the users in the middle of labour, work or action. From a scholarly point of view, the framework can be applied in studies attempting to get a better understanding of how and why relevance judgements are made, why information activity differs in seemingly similar situations and how an information use behaviour is affected by the goals of activities, necessities of life, instrumental use of information or by the social and cultural engagement in the life-world.


The author would like to thank two anonymous referees for their invaluable comments on an earlier version of this paper.

How to cite this paper

Huvila, I. (2008). "The information condition: information use by archaeologists in labour, work and action". Information Research, 13(4) paper 369. [Available at http://InformationR.net/ir/13-4/paper369.html]
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