Indexing It All

From History and Foundations of Information Science

Indexing It All

The Subject in the Age of Documentation, Information, and Data

By Ronald E. Day

A critical history of the modern tradition of documentation, tracing the representation of individuals and groups in the form of documents, information, and data.





A critical history of the modern tradition of documentation, tracing the representation of individuals and groups in the form of documents, information, and data.

In this book, Ronald Day offers a critical history of the modern tradition of documentation. Focusing on the documentary index (understood as a mode of social positioning), and drawing on the work of the French documentalist Suzanne Briet, Day explores the understanding and uses of indexicality. He examines the transition as indexes went from being explicit professional structures that mediated users and documents to being implicit infrastructural devices used in everyday information and communication acts. Doing so, he also traces three epistemic eras in the representation of individuals and groups, first in the forms of documents, then information, then data.

Day investigates five cases from the modern tradition of documentation. He considers the socio-technical instrumentalism of Paul Otlet, “the father of European documentation” (contrasting it to the hermeneutic perspective of Martin Heidegger); the shift from documentation to information science and the accompanying transformation of persons and texts into users and information; social media's use of algorithms, further subsuming persons and texts; attempts to build android robots—to embody human agency within an information system that resembles a human being; and social “big data” as a technique of neoliberal governance that employs indexing and analytics for purposes of surveillance. Finally, Day considers the status of critique and judgment at a time when people and their rights of judgment are increasingly mediated, displaced, and replaced by modern documentary techniques.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262028219 184 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 1 line drawing


$5.75 X ISBN: 9780262534932 184 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 1 line drawing


  • This supremely ambitious and questing text is without doubt dense, yet it is bracing and clearsighted, and a most welcome corrective to the wearisome distrust of theorizing and philosophy encountered too often amongst information professionals.

    Library & Information History


  • What is information, what is its power, and what are the sources of that power? Tracing the historical emergence of what he dubs the 'modern documentary tradition,' Ronald Day opens up an examination of the ways that information comes to be seen as standing for or even substituting for a world of human relations. In domains as disparate as android robotics and data mining, this powerful and thought-provoking analysis raises questions of tremendous significance both for scholars and society at large.

    Paul Dourish

    Professor of Informatics, University of California, Irvine; author of Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous Computing

  • Tracing the historical transformation of documentation to information, and information to data, Ronald Day reveals how the cultural relationship between people and documents has been overtaken by a data-driven view of people as documents. Indexing It All is an incisive challenge to information science from one of the field's best thinkers.

    Leah A. Lievrouw

    Professor of Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles

  • Indexing It All recasts our understanding of the information age. Day lays bare the ways in which documentation work and algorithms, by indexing it all, increasingly reify our understanding of the written word and our lived experience. His is a necessary and eloquent critique.

    Joseph T. Tennis

    Associate Professor, Information School, University of Washington, Seattle


  • Winner of the 2015 Best Information Science Book awarded by the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIS& T)