Sorting Things Out:
at different systems of classification and how these classifications effect
people’s perceptions. Bowker and Star
define classification as “a spatial, temporal, or spatiotemporal segmentation
of the world” (pg. 10). The authors
discuss several different classification systems
but mainly focus on social and medical examples. These include but are not limited to the Nursing
Interventions Classification, the International Classification of Diseases,
classifications of viruses and other illnesses, classifications in the work
place, and classifications of race such as during the apartheid.
There are many
interesting sections and ideas presented in the text. To discuss all of them would take much more
space than this post would allow but several things jumped out at me right from
the beginning. For example, during the introduction
they state that the “standards and classifications, however imbricates in our
lives are ordinarily invisible. The
formal, bureaucratic ones trail behind them the entourage of permits, forms,
numbers, 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 they break down or become
objects of contention” (pg. 2-3). This
is true with any number of classifications.
When everything is going as it should and objections are minor we do not
pay much attention to classification systems.
However if they become a problem whether it be moral, social, political
or anything else than we become much more aware of them.
Another interesting statement
that they made was that “each standard and each category valorizes some point
of view and silences another. This is
not inherently a bad thing –indeed it is inescapable” (pg. 5). Prior to this book I did not look at
classifications so severely. Obviously,
there are many examples where such categories have produced unfair, negative, or
disastrous results but I did not realize that nearly every category does this,
although usually in a smaller way. Of course
not all categories produce the kind of devastation seen in South Africa during
the apartheid but they all notice something over something else.
With the way that we
think as humans, categorizing comes very naturally. It can be helpful to get a better
understanding of things in a time efficient way. However, we must also be careful whenever we
impose labels on things. With the ICD or
Classification of Diseases we can see that many of the categories are somewhat
subjective yet standardization is necessary for institutions like the ICD to
work. How else could information be
communicated across borders or even just from doctor to doctor? A set of terminology is a must to bypass
language or cultural confusion. Bowker
and Star state that “it is clear that standard forms are essential for the ICD
to work and that these standard forms cannot be over precise or people will not
be able to use them… Standardization procedures must be tailored to the degree
of granularity that can be realistically achieved” (pg. 155).
area that I had some difficulty with was the concept of Torque. This the author’s define as “a twisting of
time lines that pull at each other and bend or twist both patient biography and
the process of metrication. When all are
aligned, there is no sense of torque or stress, when they pull against each
other over a long period, nightmare texture emerges” (pg. 27).
Overall, I found this
book to be a very interesting, comprehensive read. It certainly, as all the books we have read
for this class have done, has changed my view and understanding of
classification systems. I look forward
to our further discussion of the book in class.