Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences

TitleSorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication1999
AuthorsBowker, Geoffrey, and Susan Leigh Star
Number of Pages396
PublisherMIT Press
ISBN Number978-0-262-52295-3

What do a seventeenth-century mortality table (whose causes of death include "faintedin a bath," "frighted," and "itch"); the identification of South Africans during apartheid asEuropean, Asian, colored, or black; and the separation of machine- from hand-washables have incommon? All are examples of classification -- the scaffolding of informationinfrastructures.In Sorting Things Out, Geoffrey C. Bowker andSusan Leigh Star explore the role of categories and standards in shaping the modern world. In aclear and lively style, they investigate a variety of classification systems, including theInternational Classification of Diseases, the Nursing Interventions Classification, raceclassification under apartheid in South Africa, and the classification of viruses and oftuberculosis.The authors emphasize the role of invisibility in the process bywhich classification orders human interaction. They examine how categories are made and keptinvisible, and how people can change this invisibility when necessary. They also explore systems ofclassification as part of the built information environment. Much as an urban historian would reviewhighway permits and zoning decisions to tell a city's story, the authors review archives ofclassification design to understand how decisions have been made. Sorting ThingsOut has a moral agenda, for each standard and category valorizes some point of view andsilences another. Standards and classifications produce advantage or suffering. Jobs are made andlost; some regions benefit at the expense of others. How these choices are made and how we thinkabout that process are at the moral and political core of this work. The book is an importantempirical source for understanding the building of information infrastructures.

Short TitleSorting Things Out