In recent years, a substantial part of research in knowledge organization (KO) has been focusing on a critical discussion of the theoretical foundations on the basis of which knowledge organization systems (KOSs) have been planned and developed. Several authors have shown how KOSs depend on assumptions derived from dominant paradigms, which define, for example, how knowledge and meaning are conceived, thus influencing also the way in which they are represented in KOSs.

Such an influence needs to be made even more explicit. In fact, paradigms, incorporating systems of meta-assumptions, often act as hidden foundations. Different presuppositions – like those deriving from logical positivism or from hermeneutics – can instigate different ways of dealing with theoretical and pragmatical KO issues.

Being aware of the possibility to refer to different paradigms, the present information needs require us to resume developing new (or updating existing) kinds of conceptual systems, in order to structure knowledge in ways that can be used and processed effectively.

For example, information globalization – which was a theme of recent international ISKO conferences – now requires KOSs not to be biased towards any particular community, but to be acceptable to users coming from different cultures. In the global, interconnected information network, we cannot anticipate who the users of our KOS will be, and what will they do with it. Besides reflecting how knowledge is organized by its producers in existing documents, we need to make interdisciplinary connections between different fields traceable and exploitable for the creation of new knowledge.

This pushes us towards an investigation of whether existing KOSs are able to serve these needs, and how alternative paradigms can act as new structuring tools.