About my dissertation…

My dissertation research, which I successfully defended a couple weeks ago, focused on the question of semantic interoperability among sociotechnical systems—how a meaningful exchange of information can be accomplished across human cultural and technological boundaries using tags in folksonomies. Folksonomies reflect the cognitive schemas of dominant cultures when they are aggregated. The minority cultural voices that contribute to folksonomies get lost in the long tail of the tag set. Disaggregating tag sets into cultural groupings provides us with a diversity of semantic networks of tags—entry points into our human conceptual ontologies, i.e., our cultural landscapes. The patterning of our semantic networks in terms of lexical tags provides the foundation for a phenomenological hermeneutic that allows humans to explore these cultural landscapes through the continual schematic reconfiguration of our semantic networks. It is this exploration that is the essence of semantic interoperability. Semantic interoperability, therefore, is not simply an exchange of meaningful information, but rather also a pragmatic communication of understanding that facilitates the integration of new schemas–new patterns of entry points into a shared cultural landscape.

The meaningful exchange of information, in this view, forces information onto a phenomenological footing. Information is not something that can be captured, isolated and objectified. It cannot be exchanged, per se. Information is a phenomenon of ontologization, the core of which consists in the transformation of patterns through an entwined process of individual sense-making and sociocultural meaning-making. Moreover, the transformation of these patterns is handled schematically, which provides a consistency to these transformations such that data and knowledge are merged into one being—information as an ontological whole. By characterizing information as a phenomenology of ontologization, we can account for its variable manifestation within cultural landscapes and across semantic networks. If we can identify the cultural patterns embedded in tag sets, we can create a schematic form of ontologies to facilitate semantic interoperability and the “exchange of information” among our sociotechnical systems.

Because my research tackles fundamental concepts related to information, it can be applied in a variety of domains. The research I engage in can be grouped into four basic themes: information integration, social media & semantics, knowledge representation & visualization, and information ethics. See my research page for more detailed descriptions of each of these.