Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences

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MIT Press, Aug 25, 2000 - Science - 389 pages
3 Reviews
A revealing and surprising look at how classification systems can shape both worldviews and social interactions.

What do a seventeenth-century mortality table (whose causes of death include "fainted in a bath," "frighted," and "itch"); the identification of South Africans during apartheid as European, Asian, colored, or black; and the separation of machine- from hand-washables have in common? All are examples of classification—the scaffolding of information infrastructures.

In Sorting Things Out, Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star explore the role of categories and standards in shaping the modern world. In a clear and lively style, they investigate a variety of classification systems, including the International Classification of Diseases, the Nursing Interventions Classification, race classification under apartheid in South Africa, and the classification of viruses and of tuberculosis.

The authors emphasize the role of invisibility in the process by which classification orders human interaction. They examine how categories are made and kept invisible, and how people can change this invisibility when necessary. They also explore systems of classification as part of the built information environment. Much as an urban historian would review highway permits and zoning decisions to tell a city's story, the authors review archives of classification design to understand how decisions have been made. Sorting Things Out has a moral agenda, for each standard and category valorizes some point of view and silences another. Standards and classifications produce advantage or suffering. Jobs are made and lost; some regions benefit at the expense of others. How these choices are made and how we think about that process are at the moral and political core of this work. The book is an important empirical source for understanding the building of information infrastructures.


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User Review  - jorgearanda - LibraryThing

After a spectacular start with a discussion of infrastructure (and particularly classification as infrastructure), its pervasiveness, and its power to shape our lives and perceptions, this book ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - sarahdeanjean - LibraryThing

This book lies somewhere in-between the accessible narrative examples of classification in Everything is Miscellaneous and the dense cognitive science in Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things. Sorting ... Read full review

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Page 131 - Chinese encyclopaedia' in which it is written that 'animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (I) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies'.
Page 87 - Live birth" means the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother of a product of human conception, irrespective of the duration of pregnancy, which, after such expulsion or extraction, breathes or shows any other evidence of life such as beating of the heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definite movement of voluntary muscles, whether or not the umbilical cord has been cut or the placenta is attached.
Page 330 - A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, or the Pacific Islands. This area includes, for example, China, India, Japan, Korea, the Philippine Islands, Hawaii and Samoa Black or African American...
Page 330 - Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands. It includes people who indicate their race as "Native Hawaiian," "Guamanian or Chamorro," "Samoan,
Page 330 - Indian or Alaska Native. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment. It includes people who classified themselves as described below. American Indian. Includes people who indicated their race as "American Indian...
Page 73 - II Other significant conditions contributing to the death, but not related to the disease or condition causing it * This does not mean the mode of dying, eg, heartfailure, asthenia, etc.
Page 200 - Also a Cheap Edition in I vol., 6s. Gordon's (General) Last Journal. A Facsimile of the last Journal received in England from GENERAL GORDON. Reproduced by Photo-lithography. Imperial 410, 3 y. Events in his Life. From the Day of his Birth to the Day of his Death.
Page 155 - Cause of death is defined as the morbid condition or disease process, abnormality, injury or poisoning leading directly, or indirectly, to death. Both the immediate and the underlying causes are reported on the medical certificate of death, but the underlying cause is the one recommended for tabulation of mortality statistics.
Page 330 - American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and White. There are two categories for data on ethnicity: "Hispanic or Latino
Page 119 - Searchers, after the mist of a Cup of Ale, and the bribe of a Two-groat fee...

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About the author (2000)

Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences and the author of Memory Practices in the Sciences, both published by the MIT Press.

Susan Leigh Star was Doreen Boyce Chair for Library and Information Science, University of Pittsburgh.

Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs: Toward a Theory of Sociotechnical Change (MIT Press) and other books.

The Social Construction of Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology (anniversary edition, MIT Press).

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