Even more from Sorting Things Out

September 22, 2006 at 7:20 pm Leave a comment

More comments from Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences by Geoffrey C. Bowker, Susan Leigh Star.

p.107 Science is a systematized and classified knowledge of facts.

Barriers to complete knowledge systems:

  • Data entry as work is never easy, and there are never enough trained people to do it. This is reminiscent of comments from The Meaning of Everything : “a group of 147 volunteer readers were first organized. Unfortunately after a time only 89 were still working – the rest had lost their enthusiasm. Of the 89, 30 were first-rate, 15 were inferior, and 44 hadn’t done enough to judge”
  • Convergence between the medium and the message – the information that is stored is at best what can be stored using the currently available technology.
  • Infrastructure compatibility – no knowledge system exists in a vacuum and must be compatible with other systems.

p.109 “Information work” has become the dominant mode of work in industrial economies

p.117 The infinite possible ontologies of objects is limited by the pragmatics of data collection and by the inescapable inertia of categories already in use.

p.131 To classify is human and all cultures at all time have produced classification systems…. There is no such thing as a universal classification system. Classifications that appear natural eloquent, and homogeneous within a given human context appear forced and heterogeneous outside of that context.

p.137 List making has frequently been seen as one of the foundational activities of advanced human society. The first written records are lists (of kings and equipment)….What gets written down first are things that cannot be retained in the head….The early feats of memorization by Welsh poets were of lists within epic poems…The production of lists revolutionized science in the 19th century and led to modern science.

P.138 List-making is foundational for coordinating activity distributed in time and space. Lists are in themselves a genre of representation. Genres are “typified communicative action performed by members of an organizational community in response to a recurrent situation…identified by both their socially recognized communicative purpose and by common characteristics of form.”

p.139 Valuable lessons to understanding the management and use of information technologies in very large organizations:

  • There is a permanent tension between attempts at universal standardization of lists and the local circumstances of those using them.
  • This tension should not, and cannot be resolved by imposed standardization because the problem is recursive.
  • From the point of view of coordination, ad hoc responses to standardized lists can themselves be mined for their rich information about local circumstance. In turn, information technology might be tailored to support those needs not subvert them.
  • This type of list is an example of the sort of object that must satisfy members of communities or organizations with conflicting requirements. In its creation and later in its use the complex list is a kind of knowledge representation particularly useful for coordinating distributed work that often contains requirements of this sort.

P.142 Speaking of Japan’s low rate of fatal heart attacks – Overworked brains, or strokes, are much more acceptable. Heart attacks are a very low status cause of death. So the reported low levels of heart attacks may not be e.g. low levels of fat in Japanese diets, etc.


Entry filed under: Sorting things out.

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