PURPOSE – This article is intended to stimulate theoretical reflection in international comparative studies in library and information science (comparative LIS).
DESIGN/METHODOLOGY/APPROACH – The need for theory is emphasized and shortcomings in comparative LIS in respect of theory are identified. On the basis of literature from other comparative disciplines, a framework for examining issues of metatheory, methodology and methods is constructed. Against this background the role of theory and metatheory in the literature of comparative LIS is evaluated. General observations are illustrated using examples selected from comparative studies in LIS.
FINDINGS – Much of the literature of comparative LIS is a theoretical and based on assumptions that reflect naive empiricism. Most comparativists in LIS fail to link their work to that of colleagues, so that no body of theory is built up. Insufficient use is made of theory from other social science disciplines. There is a little evidence of awareness of metatheoretical assumptions in the sociological, teleological, ontological, epistemological and ethical dimensions.
RESEARCH LIMITATIONS/IMPLICATIONS – While general observations are presented about the literature of comparative LIS, this is not a bibliometric study. Issues of methodology and method are not dealt with.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS – Recommendations are made for improving teaching and research in comparative LIS. Concepts presented here are of value to the wider LIS community, particularly in internationally oriented research and practice.
ORIGINALITY/VALUE – Since the 1980s there has been very little conceptual and methodological reflection on comparative LIS. This article alerts the LIS profession to new thinking in other comparative disciplines.