The myriad of classifications and standards that surround and support the modern world, however, often blind people to the importance of the ‘other’ category as constitutive of the whole social architecture (Derrida 1980, quoted in B&S 1999, 301)
Concepts • Communities of practice • Processes of naturalization and categorization • Boundary objects enable production and maintenance to achieve coherence across intersecting communities (mathematics, medicine, statistics for scholarly communication; ‘laws of nature,’ ‘scientific objectivity and claims to truth’ are completely naturalized and become standards in the Western world)
Concepts • Categorization work: category of the ordinary and other category • Borderlands, cyborgs, the ethics of ambiguity • Naturalization is powerful because it defines the boundary of ordinary / other (social control; hegemonic thought associated with the cultural leadership of one group, exclusion of other perspectives) • ethical and political understanding of information systems whose categories attach to individuals
Concepts • Need to manage multiplicity of naturalizations (in concrete representation through information technologies) • Tension bw unified and universally applicable information system and chimera-like, distributed, boundary-object driven information system fully respectful of the needs of the variety of communities it serves (tension of local:global) • combine bureaucratic tools for classification and local variation (e.g. hospital information system)
We live in a ‘classification society.’ (Bowker & Star 1999, 323) Classifications are powerful technologies when embedded in working infrastructures Rethinking the nature of information systems (enabling work practice) by rethinking categorization tools
From Concepts and Reasoning to Classifications, Standards, Information Infrastructures
From: Funes the Memorious • We, in a glance, perceive three wine glasses on the table; Funes saw all the shoots, clusters, and grapes of the vine. He remembered the shapes of the clouds in the south at dawn on the 30th of April of 1882, and he could compare them in his recollection with the marbled grain in the design of a leather-bound book which he had seen only once, and with the lines in the spray which an oar raised in the Rio Negro on the eve of the battle of the Quebracho ...
From: Funes the Memorious • … These recollections were not simple; each visual image was linked to muscular sensations, thermal sensations, etc. He could reconstruct all his dreams, all his fancies. Two or three times he had reconstructed an entire day. He told me: I have more memories in myself alone than all men have had since the world was a world. And again: My dreams are like your vigils. And again, toward dawn: My memory, sir, is like a garbage disposal….
From: Funes the Memorious • … The two projects I have indicated (an infinite vocabulary for the natural series of numbers, and a usable mental catalogue of all the images of memory) are lacking in sense, but they reveal a certain stammering greatness. They allow us to make out dimly, or to infer, the dizzying world of Funes. He was, let us not forget, almost incapable of general, platonic ideas. ...
From: Funes the Memorious • ... It was not only difficult for him to understand that the generic term dog embraced so many unlike specimens of differing sizes and different forms; he was disturbed by the fact that a dog at three-fourteen (seen in profile) should have the same name as the dog at three-fifteen (seen from the front). His own face in the mirror, his own hands, surprised him on every occasion. ...
Classical Categories • Aristotelian, all-or-none, rule-governed • Examples: even number=‘integer divisible by 2’; grandmother=‘mother of a parent’ • Theory: concepts are definitions in the head to sort out, map concepts in relation to each other • list of properties common to all the members of a category (necessary conditions) and • list of properties common only the members of that category (sufficient conditions)
Prototypical Categories • Prototypes • There are no common properties; different properties are shared by different subsets • Therefore, a family has a prototype (prototype chair, prototype bird, prototype bachelor) • Unclear cases: Is avocado vegetable or fruit?
Bachelor? • Arthur has been living happily with Alice for the last five years. They have a two year old daugheter and have never officially married. • Bruce was going to be drafted, so he arranged with his friend Barbara to have a justice of the peace marry them so he would be exempt. They have never lived together. He dates a number of women, and plans to have the marriage annuled as soon as he finds someone he wants to marry. • Charlie is 17 years old. He lives at home with his parents and is in high school. • David is 17 years old. He left home at l3, started a small business, and is now a successful young entrepreneur leading a playboy’s lifestuyle in his penthouse apartment. • Eli and Edgar are homosexual lovers who have been living together for many years. • Faisal is allowed by the law of his native Abu Dhabi to have three wives. He currently has two and is interesteed in meeting another potential fiancée. • Father Gregory is the bishop of the Catholic cathedral at Groton upon Thames.
Evidence for the psychological reality of family resemblance categories • Psychological reality of prototypes is witnessed by studies People agree on goodness of membership (bird: robin=higher score, chicken=lower score) People classify prototypical members faster (is a robin a bird?) Kids use word with prototypical exemplars first
So are Classical Categories fictitious? • The mind contains both family resemblance categories and classical categories • Fuzzy and all-or-none judgments coexist in people’s minds 7 is prototypical odd number (447 not so good) Mother is a good example of female; waitress, comedienne, professor not so good
Sources used: • Steven Pinker (MIT): lecture slides, “Concepts and Reasoning” • Bowker & Star: Sorting Things Out (MIT Press, 1999)