- Series: Inside Technology
- Hardcover: 389 pages
- Publisher: The MIT Press; 1 edition (October 22, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0262024616
- ISBN-13: 978-0262024617
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #364,049 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences (Inside Technology) 1st Edition
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Is this book sociology, anthropology, or taxonomy? Sorting Things Out, by communications theorists Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star, covers a lot of conceptual ground in its effort to sort out exactly how and why we classify and categorize the things and concepts we encounter day to day. But the analysis doesn't stop there; the authors go on to explore what happens to our thinking as a result of our classifications. With great insight and precise academic language, they pick apart our information systems and language structures that lie deeper than the everyday categories we use. The authors focus first on the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), a widely used scheme used by health professionals worldwide, but also look at other health information systems, racial classifications used by South Africa during apartheid, and more.
Though it comes off as a bit too academic at times (by the end of the 20th century, most writers should be able to get the spelling of McDonald's restaurant right), the book has a clever charm that thoughtful readers will surely appreciate. A sly sense of humor sneaks into the writing, giving rise to the chapter title "The Kindness of Strangers," for example. After arguing that categorization is both strongly influenced by and a powerful reinforcer of ideology, it follows that revolutions (political or scientific) must change the way things are sorted in order to throw over the old system. Who knew that such simple, basic elements of thought could have such far-reaching consequences? Whether you ultimately place it with social science, linguistics, or (as the authors fear) fantasy, make sure you put Sorting Things Out in your reading pile. --Rob Lightner
From Library Journal
Classification theory is tough reading, but this is an important book that expounds the basics in a new fashion. Bowker and Star, both professors in the department of communication at the University of California, San Diego, emphasize (and show how) classification becomes invisible as it gains acceptance and exerts ever greater influence over our daily lives. They explore three issues: the role of classification in large infrastructures; classification and biography; and classification and work practice. The authors analyze the International Classification of Diseases, the Nursing Interventions Classification, the South African race classification under apartheid, and other working systems to illustrate their points about the inevitable social, political, and economic impacts of classification on people, mainly because we take them for granted, assume they represent the "natural" way of the world, and therefore that we must conform to them. The closing chapter, "Why Classifications Matter," should be required reading for every librarian. It sums up what has gone before and sensitizes us to the power of classificationAa power we wield as organizers of information. Highly recommended for library and information science educators, students, and practicing classifiers; this book is a must for all professional bookshelves, not just for those of library schools and research institutions.ASheila S. Intner, GSLIS, Simmons Coll., Boston
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
I disagee that the book is badly written. I found it better than the average academic title in studies of technology and society, where thick jargon is the primordial soup. This was one of the most original books about technological systems I have read in years, with wide application in many different fields.
I would recommend the apartheid section of this book to anyone interested in that chapter of history, but the other examples the authors use (the ICD and the DSMIV) have been explored elsewhere to greater effect.
After making a cogent point with examples and internal references, the authors feel the need to bridge to the next section with this clotted delight:
"Leaking out of the freeze frame, comes the insertion of biography, negotiation, and struggles with a shifting infrastructure of classification and treatment. Turning now to other presentation and classification of tuberculosis by a novelist and a sociologist, we will see the complex dialectic of irrevocably local biography and of standard classification."
Wha? What you mean to say is:
"This tension between personal experience and clinical priorities plays a large part in our current understanding of 'tuberculosis.' To further examine this tension, we will now examine the personal tuberculosis stories of a novelist and a sociologist."
The former kind of self-important, get-it-all-down academic writing is as embarrassing to read as adolescent poetry; they're both driven by a desire to make sure the reader gets every last nuance, and the lack of subtlety makes you want to toss the book across the room.
But the ideas buried within this book...the ideas are so sweet. If only they'd had the sense to ghostwrite this book. It could be a classic.