Notes for Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Leigh Star Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences

Key concepts: classifications, collective morality, infrastructure, standards.

Uses examples of International Classification of Diseases, books featuring classification, and work practice of nursing scientists to foreground social work building and maintaining classification systems and standards. Criticism of Baudrillard.

Related theorists: Jean Baudrillard, Andrew Feenberg, Michel Foucault, Michael Heim.

Introduction: To Classify Is Human
(3) But what
are these categories? Who makes them, and who may change them? When and why do they become visible? How do they spread?
(3) 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.
(4) 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. Philosophers and statisticians have produced highly formal discussions of classification theory, but few empirical studies of use or impact.

Clear link to Foucault Order of Things as well as gap to fill.
Foucault's (1970; 1982) work comes the closest to a thoroughgoing examination in his arguments that an archaeological dig is necessary to find the origins and consequences of a range of social categories and practices. . . . No one, including Foucault, has systematically tackled the question of how these properties inform social and moral order via the new technological and electronic infrastructures. Few have looked at the creation and maintenance of complex classifications as a kind of work practice, with its attendant financial, skill, and moral dimensions. These are the tasks of this book.

Moral and ethical agenda in querying classifcatory systems; Heim and Feenberg discuss gains and losses.

(5-6) 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. . . . We 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.

Working Infrastructures
Personal ethical imperatives.

(6) Sorting Things Out stands at the crossroads of the sociology of knowledge 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. . . True, personal information managers are designed to precisely make this process transparent, but even with their aid, the problem continues: we still must design or select categories, still enter data, still strubble with things that do not fit. At the same time, we rub these ad hoc classification against an increasingly elaborate large-scale system of formal categories and standards.

Investigating Infrastructure
(9) What work do classifications and standards do? . . . Who does the work? . . . What happens to the cases that do not fit?

Baudrillard ignores details of constructing simulations to which Manovich seems attentive.

(9-10) It is easy to get lost in Baudrillard's (1990) cool memories of simulacra. . . . At the same time, he pays no attention to the work of constructing the simulations, or the infrastructural considerations that underwrite the images or events (and we agree that separating them ontologically is a hopeless task). . . . 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 representation.

Two Definitions: Classification and Standards
A classification is a spatial, temporal, or spatio-temporal segmentation of the world.
(12) A nomenclature simply means an agreed upon naming scheme, one that need not follow any classificatory principles.

(13) A “standard” is any set of agreed-upon rules for the production of (textual or material) objects.
(15) Classifications and standards are related in another sense, which concerns the use of a classification by more than one social world or community of practice, and the impact that use has on questions of membership and the taken-for-grantedness of objects (Cambrosio and Keating 1995). Throughout this book, we speak of classifications as objects for cooperation across social worlds, or as boundary objects (Star and Griesemer 1989).

The Structure of This Book
Part I: Classification and Large-Scale Infrastructures

(21) The first part of this book is dedicated to understanding the construction of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD): a classification scheme with its origins in the late nineteenth century but still present today—indeed, it is ubiquitous in medical bureaucracy and medical information systems. The ICD constitutes an impressive attempt to coordinate information and resources about mortality and morbidity globally.
(26) The ICD classification is in many ways an ideal mirror of how people designing global information schemes struggle with uncertainty, ambiguity, standardization, and the practicalities of data quality.

Part II: Classification and Biography
(26) The second part of this book looks at two cases where the lives of individuals are broken, twisted, and torqued by their encounters with classification systems.
(26) Tuberculosis patients, like many with chronic illness, live under a confusing regime of categories and metrics.
(27) Thomas Mann's
The Magic Mountain and Julius Roth's Timetables are full of stories of classification and metrication.
(27) We call this agglomeration
torque, a twisting of time lines that pull at each other, and bend or twist both patient biography and the process of metrication.
(27) A similar torque is found in the second case in this section, that of race classification and reclassification under apartheid in South Africa.

Part III: Classification and Work Practice
(28) We examine the effort of a group of nursing scientists based at the University of Iowa, led by Joanne McCloskey and Gloria Bulechek, to produce a classification of nursing interventions.

Why It Is Important to Study Classification Systems
(31) The sheer density of the collisions of classification schemes in our lives calls for a new kind of science, a new set of metaphors, linking traditional social science and computer and information science.

Interesting appeal to the hypertextual world as a place where hybrid approaches are deployed for analysis.

(32) We intuit that a mixture of scientific, poetic, and artistic talents, such as that represented in the hypertextual world, will be crucial to this task. We will demonstrate the value of a mixture of formal and folk classifications that are used sensibly in the context of people's lives.

Some Tricks of the Trade in Analyzing Classifications

Introduction: A Good Infrastructure Is Hard to Find
(33) Systems of classification (and of standardization) form a juncture of social organization, moral order, and layers of technical integration. Each subsystem inherits, increasingly as it scales up, the inertia of the installed base of systems that have come before.

Bowker, Geoffrey and Susan Leigh Star. Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000. Print.