Sorting things out: classification and its consequences /. Geoffrey C. Bowker, Susan Leigh Star. p. cm. (Inside technology). Includes bibliographical references . Classification and Its Consequences In Sorting Things Out, Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star explore the role PDF download currently unavailable. in the development and use of boundary infrastructures are not fully explored in Bowker and Star (). Bowker and Star point to several areas of future research, and this is one of them. Kommentar zu Kapitel 9 aus Geoffrey Bowker und Susan L. Star () Sorting Things.
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SORTING THINGS OUT: CLASSIFICATION AND ITS CONSEQUENCES. Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. and its consequences, Cambridge-Massachusetts, MIT Press, , Classification is an «old» issue in modernity, as many historians of science have pointed out. But as Star and Bowker suggest in Sorting Things Out, it is also. Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences (review. Henry Lowood. Reviews One of these is the description by Bipin Desai, Raijan Shinghal.
Envoi We would hate to have to assign a Dewey classification number to this book, which straddles sociology, anthropology, history and information systems, and design. Our modest hope is that it will not find its way onto the fantasy shelves. Introduction: To Classify Is Human In an episode of The X-Files, a television show devoted to FBI investigations of the para normal, federal a gents Mulder and Scully investiga ted a spate of murders of psychics of all stamps: palm readers, astrologers, and so forth.
The plot unfolded thusly: The murderer would get his fortune read or astrologica l chart done, a n d then brutaly slay the fortune-teller.
It emerged during the show that the reason for these visits was that he wanted to understand what he was doing and why he was doing it, and he thought psychics could help h im u nderstand his urges to kill people. Only one psychic, a n insura nce salesma n with the ability to scry the future, wa s able to prdict his murderous attacks and recognize the criminal.
When finally the murderer met this psy chic, he burst into his impassioned plea for an expla nation of what he was doing. You're a homicidal ma niac. He then proceeds to try to kill a gain. The salesma n's answer is both penetrating and banal-what it says about classification systems is the topic of this book. Why is it so funny? Our lives are henged round with systems of classification, limned by standard formats, prescriptions, and objects.
I gnore these forms at your peril-as a building owner, be sued by irate tenants; as an inspector, risk malpractice suits denying your proper application of the ideal to the case at hand; as a parent, risk toxic paint threatening your children. To classify is human.
Not all classifications take formal shape or are standardized in commercial and bureaucratic products. We all spend large parts of our days doing classification work, often tacitly, and we 2 Introduction make up and use a range of ad hoc classifications to do so.
We sort dirty dishes from clean, white laundry from colorfast, important email to be answered from e-junk. We match the size and type of our car tires to the amount of pressure they should accept.
Our desktops are a mute testimony to a kind of muddled folk classification : papers that must be read by yesterday, but that have been there since last year; old professional journals that really should be read and even in fact may someday be, but that have been there since last year; assorted grant appli cations, tax forms, various work-related surveys and forms waiting to be filled out for everything from parking spaces to immunizations.
These surfaces may be piled with sentimental cards that are already read, but which cannot yet be thrown out, alongside reminder notes to send similar cards to parents, sweethearts, or friends for their birthdays, all piled on top of last year's calendar which-who knows?
Any part of the home, school, or workplace reveals some such system of classification : medications classed as not for chil dren occupy a higher shelf than safer ones ; books for reference are shelved close to where we do the Sunday crossword puzzle; door keys are color-coded and stored according to frequency of use.
What sorts of things order these piles, locations, and implicit labels? We have certain knowledge of these intimate spaces, classifications that appear to live partly in our hands-definitely not just in the head or in any formal algorithm. The knowledge about which thing will be useful at any given moment is embodied in a flow of mundane tasks and practices and many varied social roles child, boss, friend, em ployee. When we need to put our hands on something,.
Our computer desktops are no less cluttered.
Bowker and Star - - Sorting things out classification and its consequ.pdf
H ere the electronic equivalent of " not yet ready to throw out" is also well represented. A quick scan of one of the author's desktops reveals eight residual cate gories represented in the various folders of email and papers: " fun," "take back to office," " remember to look up," " misc. These standards and classifications, however imbricated in our lives, are ordinarily invisible. The formal, bureaucratic ones trail behind them the entourage of permits, forms, numerals, and the sometimes visible work of people who adjust them to make organizations run smoothly.
In that sense, they may become more visible, especially when To Classify Is Human 3 they break down or become objects of contention. But what are these categories? Who makes them, and who may change them? When and why do they become visible?
How do they spread? What, for instance, is the relationship among locally generated categories, tailored to the particular space of a bathroom cabinet, and the commodified, elabo rate, expensive ones generated by medical diagnoses, government regulatory bodies, and pharmaceutical firms?
Remarkably for such a central part of our lives, we stand for the most part in formal ignorance of the social and moral order created by these invisible, potent entities.
Their impact is indisputable , and as Foucault reminds us, inescapable. Try the simple experiment of ignor ing your gender classification and use instead whichever toilets are the nearest; try to locate a library book shelved under the wrong Library of Congress catalogue number; stand in the immigration queue at a busy foreign airport without the right passport or arrive without the transformer and the adaptor that translates between electrical stan dards.
The material force of categories appears always and instantly. At the level of public policy, classifications such as those of regions, activities, and natural resources play an equally important role. Whether or not a region is classified as ecologically important, whether another is zoned industrial or residential come to bear significantly on future economic decisions. The substrate of decision making in this area, while often hotly argued across political camps, is only intermit tently visible.
Changing such categories, once designated, is usually a cumbersome, bureaucratically fraught process. For all this importance, classifications and standards occupy a peculiar place in studies of social order. Anthropologists have studied classification as a device for understanding the cultures of others categories such as the raw and the cooked have been clues to the core organizing principles for colonial Western understandings of "primi tive" culture.
Some economists have looked at the effects of adopting a standard in those markets where networks and compatibility are crucial. For example, videotape recorders, refrigerators, and personal computer software embody arguably inferior technical standards, but standards that benefited from the timing of their historical entry into the marketplace.
Some historians have examined the explosion of natural history and medical classifications in the late nineteenth century, both as a political force and as an organizing rubric for complex bureaucracies. A few sociologists have done detailed studies of individual categories linked with social movements, such as the 4 Introduction diagnosis of homosexuality as an illness and its demedicalization in the wake of gay and lesbian civil rights.
Information scientists work every day on the design, delegation, and choice of classification systems and standards, yet few see them as artifacts embodying moral and aesthetic choices that in turn craft people's identities, aspirations, and dignity.
Both within and outside the academy, single categories or classes of categories may also become objects of contention and study. During this same era, feminists were split on the subject of whether the categories of premenstrual syndrome and postpartum depression would be good or bad for women as they became included in the DSM. Many feminist p sychotherapists were engaged in a bitter argument about whether to include these catego ries. As Ann Figert 1 relates, they even felt their own identities and professional judgments to be on the line.
Allan Young 1 makes the complicating observation that psychiatrists increasingly use the language of the DSM to communicate with each other and their accounting departments, although they frequently do not believe in the categories they are using.
More recently, as discussed in chapter 6, the option to choose mul tiple racial categories was introduced as part of the U. The Office of Management and Budget OMB issued the directive; conservatively, its implementation will cost several mil lion dollars.
One direct consequence is the addition of this option to the U. A march on Washington concerning the category took the traditional ultimate avenue of mass protest for American activists.
The march was conducted by people who identified themselves as multiracial, and their families and advocates. At the same time, it was vigorously op posed by many African-American and Hispanic civil rights groups among several others , who saw the option as a "whitewash" against which important ethnic and policy-related distinctions would be lost Robbin 1 To Classify Is Human 5 Despite the contentiousness of some categories, however, none of the above-named disciplines or social movements has systematically addressed the pragmatics of the invisible forces of categories and standards in the modern built world, especially the modern informa tion technology world.
Foucault's 1 ; 1 work comes the closest to a thoroughgoing examination in his arguments that an archaeologi cal dig is necessary to find the origins and consequences of a range of social categories and practices. He focused on the concept of order and its implementation in categorical discourse. The ubiquity de scribed by Foucault appears as an iron cage of bureaucratic discipline against a broad historical landscape. But there is much more to be done, both empirically and theoretically.
No one, including Foucault, has systematically tackled the question of how these properties inform social and moral order via the new technological and electronic infra structures. Few have looked at the creation and maintenance of com plex classifications as a kind of work practice, with its attendant financial, skill, and moral dimensions.
These are the tasks of this book. Foucault' s practical archaeology is a point of departure for examin ing several cases of classification, some of which have become formal or standardized, and some of which have not.
Hm Are You a Human?
We have several con cerns in this exploration, growing both from the consideration of classification work and its attendant moral dimensions. First, we seek to understand the role of invisibility in the work that classification does in ordering human interaction. We want to understand how these categories are made and kept invisible, and in some cases, we want to challenge the silences surrounding them. In this sense, our job here is to find tools for seeing the invisible, much as E mile Durkheim passionately sought to convince his audience of the material force of the social fact-to see that society was not just an idea-more than 1 00 years ago Durkheim 1 The book also explores systems of classification as part of the built information environment.
Much as a city planner or urban historian would leaf back through highway permits and zoning decisions to tell a city's story, we delve the dusty archives of classification design to understand better how wide-scale classification decisions have been made. We have a moral and ethical agenda in our querying of these systems. Each standard and each category valorizes some point of view and silences another.
This is not inherently a bad thing-indeed it is inescapable. But it is an ethical choice, and as such it is dangerous-not 6 Introduction bad, but dangerous. For example, the decision of the U.
I mmigration and Naturalization Service to classify some races and classes as desir able for U. The decision to classify students by their standardized achievement and aptitude tests valorizes some kinds of knowledge skills and renders other kinds invisible. Other types of decisions with serious material force may not immediately appear as morally problematic.
The collective stan dardization in the United States on VHS videotapes over Betamax, for instance, may seem ethically neutral.
The classification and stan dardization of types of seed for farming is not obviously fraught with moral weight. But as Busch 1 and Addelson 1 argue, such long-term, collective forms of choice are also morally weighted.
We2 are used to viewing moral choices as individual, as dilemmas, and as rational choices. We have an impoverished vocabulary for collective moral passages, to use Addelson's terminology. For any individual, group or situation, classifications and standards give advantage or they give suffering. Jobs are made and lost; some regions benefit at the expense of others. How these choices are made, and how we may think about that invisible matching p rocess, is at the core of the ethical project of this work.
Sorting Things Out stands at the crossroads of the sociology of knowl edge and technology, history, and information science. The categories represented on our desktops and in our medicine cabinets are fairly ad hoc and individual, not even legitimate anthropological folk or ethno classifications. They are not often investigated by information scientists but see Kwasnik 1 , 1 99 1 ; Beghtol 1 ; Star 1 But everyone uses and creates them in some form, and they are increas ingly important in organizing computer-based work.
They often have old and deep historical roots. True, personal information managers are designed precisely to make this process transparent, but even with their aid, the problem continues : we still must design or select catego ries, still enter data, still struggle with things that do not fit. At the same time, we rub these ad hoc classifications against an increasingly elaborate large-scale system of formal categories and standards.
Users To Classify Is Human 7 of the Internet alone navigate, now fairly seamlessly, more than formally elected Internet standards for information transmission each time they send an email message. I f we are to understand larger scale classifications, we also need to understand how desktop classifications link up with those that are formal, standardized, and widespread.
Every link in hypertext creates a category. That is, it reflects some judgment about two or more objects : they are the same, or alike, or functionally linked, or linked as part of an unfolding series.
The rummage sale of information on the World Wide Web is overwhelm ing, and we all agree that finding information is much less of a problem than assessing its quality-the nature of its categorical associations and by whom they are made Bates, in press.
The historical cultural model of social classification research in this book, from desktop to wide-scale infrastructure, is a good one through which to view problems of indexing, tracking, and even compiling bibliographies on the Web. In its cultural and workplace dimensions, it offers insights into the proble matics of design of classification systems, and a lens for examining their impact.
It looks at these processes as a sort of crafting of treaties. In this, a cross-disciplinary approach is crucial. Any information systems design that neglects use and user semantics is bound for trouble down the line-it will become either oppressive or irrelevant.
I nformation systems mix up the conventional and the formal, the hard technical problems of storage and retrieval with the hard interactional problems of querying and organizing.
Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences
Information systems are undergoing rapid change. There is an explosion of information on the Web and associated technologies, and fast moving changes in how information may converge across pre viously disparate families of technology-for instance, using one's tele vision to retrieve email and browse the Web, using one's Inter net connections to make telephone calls. Whatever we write here about the latest electronic developments will be outdated by the time this book sees print, a medium that many would argue is itself anachronistic.
Conventions of use and understandings of the impact of these changes on social organization are slower to come. The following example illustrates the intermingling of the conventional and the local in the types of classificatory links formed by hypertext.
A few years ago, our university was in the enviable position of having several job openings in library and information science. Both the authors were on 8 Introduction the search committee. During the process of sifting through applica tions and finding out more about candidates, the need arose to query something on the candidate's resume. We used the Alta Vista search engine to find the candidate's email address. Of course, the first thing one really does with Alta Vista is ego surfing--checking one's own name to see how many times it appears on the Web-but we had already done that.
His email address and formal institutional home page appeared in about fifteen seconds on our desktop, but so did his contributions to a discussion on world peace, a feminist bulletin board, and one of the more arcane alt. We found ourselves unable to stop our eyes from roving through the quoted U senet posts--category boundaries surely never meant to be crossed by a job search committee.
Fortunately for us as committee members, we inter preted what we found on the Web as evidence that the applicant was a more well rounded person than his formal CV resume had conveyed. He became a more interesting candidate. But of course, it might have gone badly for him. I n less than a minute we had accessed information about him that crossed a social boundary of de facto privacy, access, and awareness context Glaser and Strauss 1 The risk of random readership had been there in some sense when he posted to a public space, but who on a search committee in the old days of a couple of years ago could possibly be bothered searching listserv archives?
Who would have time? There are many ethical and etiquette-related questions here, of course, with the right to privacy not least among them.
The incident also points to the fact that as a culture we have not yet developed conventions of clas sification for the Web that bear much moral or habitual conviction in daily practice. The label alt. We would never open someone's desk drawer or diary.
We are not usually known to be rude people, but we have not yet developed or absorbed routine similar politeness for things such as powerful Web search engines. We were thus somewhat embarrassed and confused about the morality of mentioning the alt. As we evolve the classifications of habit-grow common fingertips with respect to linkages and networks-we will be faced with some choices.
How standardized will our indexes become? What forms of freedom of association among people, texts and people, and texts do we want to preserve and which are no longer useful?
Who will decide these matters? To Classify Is Human 9 Investigating Infrastructure People do many things today that a few hundred years ago would have looked like magic. And if we don't understand a given technology today it looks like magic: for example, we are perpetually surprised by the mellifluous tones read off our favorite CDs by, we believe, a laser. Most of us have no notion of the decades of negotiation that inform agreement on, inter alia, standard disc size, speed, electronic setting, and amplification standards.
It is not dissimilar to the experience of magic one enjoys at a fine restaurant or an absorbing play. Common descriptions of good waiters or butlers one thinks of Jeeves in the Wodehouse stories are those who clear a table and smooth the un folding of events "as if by magic.
Is the magic of the CD different from the magic of the waiter or the theater ensemble? Are these two kinds of magic or one-or none? This book is an attempt to answer these questions, which can be posed more prosaically as : What work do classifications and standards do? Again, we want to look at what goes into making things work like magic : making them fit together so that we can download a radio built by someone we have never met in Japan, plug it into a wall in Champaign, Illinois, and hear the world news from the BBC.
Who does that work? We explore the fact that all this magic involves much work: there is a lot of hard labor in effortless ease.
We will discuss where all the " missing work" that makes things look magical goes. What happens to the cases that do not fit? We want to draw attention to cases that do not fit easily into our magical created world of stan dards and classifications: the left handers in the world of right-handed magic, chronic disease sufferers in the acute world of allopathic medi cine, the vegetarian in MacDonald's Star 1 99 1 b , and so forth.
These are issues of great import. It is easy to get lost in Baudrillard's 1 cool memories of simulacra. He argues that it is impossible to sort out media representations from "what really happens. At the same time, he pays no attention to the work of con structing the simulations, or the infrastructural considerations that underwrite the images or events and we agree that separating them ontologically is a hopeless task.
The hype of our postmodern times is that we do not need to think about this sort of work any more. The real issues are scientific and technological, stripped of the conditions of production-in artificial life, thinking machines, nanotechnology, and genetic manipulation.
Clearly each of these is important. But there is more at stake-epistemologically, politically, and ethically-in the day-to-day work of building classification systems and producing and maintaining standards than in abstract arguments about repre sentation.
Their pyrotechnics may hold our fascinated gaze, but they cannot provide any path to answering our moral questions. By Geoffrey C.
Bowker and Susan Leigh Star. Cambridge, Mass. The thrust of this eclectic and wide-ranging study is twofold: 1 classification is a ubiquitous [End Page ] human activity; and 2 the ramifications of classification both as part of the information infrastructure and as a social practice affecting human lives deserve much greater attention than they have previously received.
This wide-ranging study then instantiates these claims by closely examining instances of classification schemes, such as the International Classification of Diseases ICD , the Nursing Intervention Classification NIC , and the system of racial classification under apartheid in the former South Africa.
In these studies the authors focus on both cultural and technical aspects of classification, especially the negotiations and implications affecting such fundamental social constructs as identity, disease, race, and work.
Like Gaul, Sorting Things Out is divided into three parts, and indeed they are conquered in quite different ways. Most of the chapters have been published in earlier versions and, perhaps as a result, they do not mesh particularly well.
As a whole, the book is a bumpy ride. The three divisions, each encompassing two or three chapters, are devoted in turn to the construction and use of classifications especially the ICD ; the way in which practices and systems of classifications "torque" biographies, that is, how they change lives; and how classification systems "organize and are organized by work practice" especially the NIC.
Several topics one might expect in a defining work on classification are lacking in this breakout, such as systems of library and archival classification, the encyclopedic tradition, bibliographic indexing, and security classification schemes.
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On the whole, such omissions represent readers' expectations more than the authors' intentions, which appear to be oriented toward practices that operate within the structures of medical and social classification rather than the intellectual problems of creating formal classifications of information or knowledge.How these choices are made and how we think about that process are at the moral and political core of this work. When w e think o f classifications and standards a s both material and symbolic.
Latour 1 speculates that far more economic resources are spent creating and maintaining standards than in producing " pure" science. Whatever appears as universal or indeed standard. As we have indicated in this chapter.
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