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13 April 2009 No Comment

Sorting Things Out:

Classification and its Consequences by Bowker and Star is an interesting look

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

the International

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).

One

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.

 

 

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