Fuller, Steve. The knowledge book: key concepts in philosophy, science and culture. Stocksfield, UK: Acumen, 2007. ix, 222 p. ISBN 978-1-84465-098-9. £11.99.

"Readers familiar with my previous writing will recognize certain intellectual biases at play in this book for which I do not apologise but simply acknowledge," writes Fuller in the Introduction (p. vii) of his book. In this case, I would add: the clearer these biases, the better. A strong theoretical and intellectual position that is clearly visible and recognizable in the text becomes a tool for better understanding the positions of other writers supported or criticised by the author. It is a crucial property for a reference book of this type, i.e., one that reviews the complex area of social epistemology and covers an array of disciplines dealing with various aspects of it.

The Knowledge book consists of forty-two essays pertaining to social epistemology that are arranged in alphabetical order of the key concepts. The author draws on works from different disciplines dealing with the problem of knowledge in society: philosophy and sociology in the first place, but also psychology, cultural studies, education and, what is especially interesting for our readers, from communication studies and information science.

The essays are presented alphabetically (the sequence of titles) and may be read in any order, though the author recommends that beginners should start with the entry on Social Epistemology. The essays are concise and quite short (mostly of five pages and not more than seven), but presenting condensed and rather exhaustive critical introduction to the topic. A very useful element is the cross-references pointing to the related essays. It serves as an integrative device that pulls together separate texts and may be used to some extent as an instruction for reading order. Their value for the orientation in the text becomes higher after acquaintance with the index at the end of the book. It is clearly incomplete, its function in the book and logic of compilation is difficult to understand, especially as there is no explanation of it.

At the end of each chapter, there are lists of further readings for those who would like or need to study the presented issues in depth. These lists include literature that functions as "a source for further thinking about more than one entry" (p. vii). Therefore, readers wishing to go deeper into the actual topic of the essay rather than explore the knowledge problems presented in it will have to look for alternative bibliographic sources. The bibliography at the end of the book suffers from the same lack of explanation as the index: it clearly does not provide the list of the used literature and seemingly consists of the items in reading lists. The resulting summarized list does not make a lot of sense.

The feature that makes this particular book an outstanding item of reference literature is the provocative and lively style of the author. Apart from good introduction to the concepts, the development of thought, the authors and works in respective topics, a reader experiences a deep intellectual pleasure from sharp and witty comments and surprisingly precise characteristics of certain authors and ideas. Fuller's erudition and the depth of knowledge in most of the disciplines that he includes in the book are surprising and also become one of the sources of pleasure in reading.

Personally, I have found quite many essays of direct interest with regard to my own research and teaching: Folk epistemology, Information science, Knowledge management, Knowledge policy, Knowledge society, Mass media, Multiculturalism, Translation, to mention just a few. But each essay deals with issues that are important for a researcher, a lecturer and, especially, one dealing with library and information science, knowledge management, scientific communication, or communication studies in general.

One of the most interesting parts for our readers is of course the essay on Information Science and contrasting of its social epistemology concept with the prevailing concepts of access to information. As many others, Fuller makes a mistake and assigns the social epistemology concept to Shera, when Shera himself has acknowledged (and others confirmed, see: Furner 2004; Wilson 2007) that it was an idea of his co-author Margaret Egan. Without any reference to the original work her name is lost entirely for the reader of the book under review. However, the essence of the discussion lies in the contrasting of the two different epistemological approaches in library and information science and discussion of the consequences of a return to the original vision of Egan and Shera today. Fuller reveals the damage done to information science and science in general by the domination of the access concepts, however, I would like to point out that the social epistemological trend of thought has never been extinct in our field, despite the fact that it does not fit readily the present funding and fashion trends.

Another important issue for me personally is related to my teaching of intercultural communication. I find the standpoint suggested by social epistemology that "the West's neglect of the subaltern's epistemic perspective reflects a substantial flaw in the West's own mode of knowledge production" (p. 101) highly relevant and effective in overcoming the threats inbuilt in the very concept of multiculturalism that are also very clearly revealed in several essays (Multiculturalism, Translation, Universalism versus Relativism, Folk epistemology and others).

I am sure that this book would be equally useful for any social science researcher: for those who only start the acquaintance with epistemology - as a very interesting and flexible (in this case, allowing one to follow individual interests) introduction, for the others - as a book stimulating intellectual activity both, in the case when one agrees and disagrees with the position of Fuller's social epistemology.

I would recommend the book as a useful acquisition for any library serving social science researchers and humanities departments.


Egan M.E. and Shera J. H. (1952). Foundations of a theory of bibliography. Library Quarterly, 22(2), 125-137.

Furner J. (2004) A brilliant mind: Margaret Egan and social epistemology. Library Trends, 52(4), 792-809

Wilson T.D. (2007). The epistemological dimension of information science and its impact on library and archival education. Knygotyra, 49, 9-21. [In Lithuanian}.

Professor Elena Maceviciute
Vilnius University
January 2008

How to cite this review

Maceviciute E. (2008). Review of: Fuller, Steve. The knowledge book: key concepts in philosophy, science and culture. Stocksfield, UK: Acumen, 2007.    Information Research, 13(1), review no. R293  [Available at: http://informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs293.html]

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