Foucault, the "Facts," and the Fiction of Neutrality: Neutrality in Librarianship and Peer Review

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Canadian Journal of Academic Librarianship





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This paper brings together two discourses in librarianship, that of neutrality in the context of library services, and that of peer review, which is of concern for librarianship as it moves more into the realm of scholarly communication. It points out the shortcomings of this ethical principle within the context of library services, using LIS literature on the opposition between neutrality and the commitment to social justice. It also uses Foucault’s theories on discipline, and knowledge and power, and Latour and Woolgar’s analysis of the construction of scientific facts, to critique the concept of neutrality. Then it asks how that critique applies to the practice of peer review, in which the expectation is that reviewers will be neutral or impartial judges of manuscripts. Findings suggest that the principle of neutrality, with a slightly different meaning in this context, does have useful applications to peer review, ensuring fairness. Although neutrality may never be possible completely, cross-disciplinary literature suggests ways to limit the effects of bias. Thus, librarians can better understand the different meanings of neutrality in these different contexts, including its usefulness and limitations.

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