NOTICE: IT MUST BE SOMETHING AROUND EVERYDAY LIFE !!!What was that about? Why do they keep doing this thing that’s not working? They always do this. Everyday life is usually familiar, habitual — those happenings and practices we rarely take notice of. But breakdowns happen. These can include, but aren’t limited to, miscommunication, mistreatment, problematic patterns, marginalization, or devaluation of that which you value. This project asks you to identify a breakdown and use tools from the course to gain insight. For this writing, you will choose one breakdown, observe and describe it in thoughtful detail, and analyze the situation using two different theories from the list I will give you. Conclude by reflecting on what you have learned in the course. For this project, a breakdown can be any situation you find problematic. Process1. Plan and observe: Choose the problematic situation you want to analyze. Write notes on your memories of the situation. Carefully observe and make notes about people, practices, and spaces related to the situation. Choose the two readings you would like to use to shed light on why the situation happened.2. Write a 1 page note to me and explaining the problematic situation, your observations to date, why it is important or interesting to you, and what readings you think you might draw on to shed light on the problem.Please ensure that your proposal contains the following:1. A clear definition of the breakdown (problematic situation). This is not the same as just a general theme (eg. addiction). Your breakdown needs to be specific. 2. Which 2 readings you plan to use and which concepts you plan to engage to help you understand the breakdown better.
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bowker_and_star___1999___tricks_of_the_trade___ch_1_sorting_things_out.pdf
Unformatted Attachment Preview
Sorting Things Out:
Classification and Its
Consequences
Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star
Second printing, 1999
‘ 1999 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form
by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording,
or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from
the publisher.
Set in New Baskerville by Wellington Graphics.
Printed
and bound
in the United
States of America.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-PublicationData
Bowker, Geoffrey C.
Sorting things out : classificationand its consequences /
Geoffrey C. Bowker, Susan Leigh Star.
p. cm.
(Inside technology)
Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and index.
ISBN 0-262-02461-6 (alk. paper)
1. Knowledge, Sociology of. 2. Classification. I. Star, Susan
Leigh, 1954 . II. Title. III. Series.
BD175.B68
1999
001.012dc2l
99-26894
CIP
______
MIT
Press
O-262-O2461-6Bowker
and Star
Sorting Things Out
SomeTricks of the Trade in Analyzing
Classificalion
My guess is that we ha,re a folk theory of categorization itself . It says that
things come in well-defined kinds , that the kinds are characterized by shared
properties , and that there is one right taxonomy of the kinds .
It is easier to show what is wrong with a scientific theory than with a folk
theory. A folk theory defines common senseitself . When the folk theory and
the technical theory converge, it gets even tougher to see where that theory
gets in the way- or even that it is a theory at all.
(Lakoff 1987, 121)
Introduction : A Good Infrastructure
Is Hard to Find
Information
infrastructure is a tricky thing to analyze .6 Good , usable
systems disappear almost by definition . The easier they are to use, the
harder they are to see. As well , most of the time , the bigger they are ,
the harder they are to see. Unless “”‘e are electricians or building
inspectors , we rarely think about the myriad of databases , standards ,
and instruction manuals subtending our reading lamps , much less
about the politics of the electric grid that they tap into . And so on , as
many layers of technology accrue and expand over space and time .
Systems of classification (and of standardization ) form a juncture of
social organization , moral ol~der , 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 .
Infrastructures are never tl~ansparent for everyone , and their work ability as the )! scale up becomes increasingly complex . Through due
methodological attention to the architecture and use of these systems,
we can achieve a deeper understanding of how it is that individuals
and communities meet infrastructure . We know that this means , at the
.
least , an understanding
of infrastructure
that includes these points :
34
Chapter 1
. A historical process of development of many tools, arranged for a
wide variety of users , and made to work in concert .
. A practical match among routines of work practice, technology, and
wider scale organizational
and technical resources .
. A 11ichset of negotiated compromises ranging from epistemology to
data entry
users
that are both
available
and transparent
to communities
of
.
. A negotiated order in which all of the above, recursively, can function together .
Table 1.1 shows a more elaborate definition of infrastructure , using
Star and Ruhleder ( 1996 ), who emphasize that one person ‘s infrastruc ture
may
be another
‘ s barrier
.
This chapter offers four themes, methodological points of departure
for the analysis of these complex relationships . Each theme operates
as a gestalt switch- it comes in the form of an infrastructural inversion
(Bowker 1994). This inversion is a struggle against the tendency of
infrastructure to disappear (except when breaking down). It means
learning to look closely at technologies and arrangements that , by
design and by habit , tend to fade into the woodwork
(sometimes
literally !).
Infrastructural inversion means recognizing the depths of interde pendence of technical networks and standards , on the one hand , and
the real work of politics and knowledge production8 on the other . It
foregrounds these normally invisible Lilliputian threads and further more gives them causal prominence in many areas usually attributed
to heroic
actors
, social
movements
, or cultural
mores
. The
in lTersion
is
similar to the argument made by Becker (1982) in his book A1~t Worlds.
Most history and social analysis of art has neglected the details of
infrastructure
Becker
within
‘ s inversion
which communities
examines
the
conventions
of artistic practice emerge .
and
constraints
of
the
material artistic infrastructure and its ramifications . For example, the
convention of musical concerts lasting about three hours ramifies
throughout the producing organization . Parking attendants, unions ,
ticket takers, and theater rentals are arranged in cascading depend ence on this interval of time . An eight -hour musical piece, which is
occasionally written , means rearranging all of these expectations,
which in turn is so expensive that such productions are rare . Or
paintings are about the size, usually, that will hang comfortably on a
wall. They are also the size that fits rolls of canvas, the skills of framers,
Some Tricks of the Trade in Analyzing Classification
35
Table1.1
A definition of infrastructure
.
E ‘mbeddedness
. Infrastructure
is sunk
into
, inside
of , other
structures
, social
arrangements , and technologies,
. Transparency. Infrastructure
not
have
to be reinvented
is transparent
each
time
or
to use in the sense that it does
assembled
for
each
task , but
invisibly supports those tasks.
. Reachor scope
. This may be either spatial or temporal – infrastructure has
reach be)Tonda single event or one-site practice;
. Learned as part of membershiP
. The taken-for -grantedness of artifacts and
organizational arrangements is a sine qua non of membership in a
community of practice (Lave and Wenger 1991, Star 1996). Strangers and
outsiders encounter infrastructure as a target object to be learned about.
New participants acquire a naturalized familiarity with its objects as they
become
members
.
. Links with conventionsa/ practice. Infrastructure both shapes and is shaped
by the conventions of a community of practice; for example, the ways that
cycles of day-night work are affected by and affect electrical power rates
and needs . Generations
of typists have learned the QWERTY
keyboard ; its
limitations are inherited by the computer keyboard and thence by the
design of today’s computer furniture (Becker 1982).
. Embodimentof standards. Modified b}’ scope and often by conflicting
conventions, infrastructure takes on transparency by plugging into other
infrastructures
. Built
and
tools
on an installed
in
a standardized
base . Infrastructure
fashion
does
not
.
grow
de
novo
; it wrestles
with the inertia of the installed base and inherits strengths and limitations
from that base. Optical fibers run along old railroad lines, new systemsare
designed for backward compatibility ; and failing to account for these
constraints may be fatal or distorting to new development processes
(Monteiro
and Hanseth
1996 ).
. Becomes
visible upon breakdown
. The normally invisible quality of working
infrastructure
becomes
visible
when
it breaks
: the
server
is down
, the
bridge washes out , there is a power blackout . Even when there are backup
mechanisms or procedures , their existence further highlights the now
visible
infrastructure
.
. Is fixed in modular increments
, not all at onceor globally. Because
infrastructure is big, layered, and complex , and because it means different
things locally, it is never changed from above. Chang-es take time and
negotiation , and adjustment with other aspects
of the systems
.
involved .7
Source
: Star
and
Rohleder
1996 .
36
Chapter
1
and the very doorways of museums and galleries. These constraints
are mutable only at great cost, and artists must always consider them
before violating them .
Scientific inversions of infrastructure were the theme of a path breaking edited volume , The Right Toolsfor thejob : At Work in Twentieth-CenturyLife Sciences(Clarke and Fujimura 1992). The purpose of
this volume was to tell the history of biology in a new way- from the
point of view of the materials that constrain and enable biological
researchers. Rats, petri dishes, taxidermy , planaria , drosophila , and
test tubes take center stage in this narrative . The standardization of
genetic research on a few specially bred organisms (notably drosophila )
has constrained the pacing of research and the ways the questions may
be framed , and it has given biological supply houses an important ,
invisible role in research horizons . While elephants or whales might
answer different kinds of biological questions, they are obviously un wieldy lab animals. While pregnant cow’s urine played a critical role
in the discovery and isolation of reproductive hormones , no historian
of biology had thought it important to describe the task of obtaining
gallons of it on a regular basis. Adele Clarke (1998) puckishly relates
her discovery, found in the memoirs of a biologist , of the technique
required to do so: tickle the cow’s labia to make her urinate . A starkly
different view of the tasks of laboratory biology emerges from this
image. It must be added to the processesof stabling, feeding , impreg nating , and caring for the cows involved . The supply chain, techniques, and animal handling methods had to be invented along with
biology ‘s conceptual frame ; they are not accidental, but constitutive .
Our infrastructural inversion with respect to information technologies and their attendant classification systemsfollows this line of analysis. Like the cow’s urine or the eight -hour concert, we have found
many examples of counterintuitive , often humorous struggles with
constraints and conventions in the crafting of classifications. For in stance, as we shall see in chapter 5, in analyzing the experience of
tuberculosis patients in Mann ‘s TheMagic Mountain, we found the story
of one woman who had been incarcerated so long in the sanatorium
that leaving it became unthinkable . She recovered from the disease,
but tried to subvert the diagnosis of wellness. When the doctors took
her temperature , she would surreptitiously dip the thermometer in
hot water to make it seem that she still had a fever. On discovering
this, the doctors created a thermometer without markings , so that she
could not tell what the mercury column indicated . They called this
SomeTricks of the Trade in Analyzing Classification
37
“the silent sister.” The silent sister immediately becomes itself a telling
indicator of the entangled infrastructure , medical politics , and the use
of metrics in classifying tubercular patients. It tells a rich metaphorical
story, and may become a concept useful beyond the l~arified walls of
the fictional Swissasylum. VlThatother silent sisters will we encounter
in our infrastructural inversion- what surveillance, deception , caring ,
struggling , or negotiating ?
In the sections below, four themes are presented that require the
special double vision implied in the anecdotes above. They frame the
new way’ of seeing that brings to life large-scale, bureaucratic classifications and standards. Without this map, excursions into this aspect of
information infrastructure can be stiflingly boring . Many classifications
appear as nothing more than lists of numbers with labels attached,
bul~ied in software menus, users’ manuals, or other references. As
discussed in chapter 2, new eyes are needed for reading classification
systems, for l~estoring the deleted and dessicated narratives to these
peculiar cultural , technical, and scientific artifacts.
Methodological
Themes for lnfrastructural
Inversion
Ubiquity
The first major theme is the ubiquity of classifying and standardizing .
Classification schemes and standards literally saturate our environ ment . In the built world we inhabit , thousands and thousands of
standards are used everywhere, from setting up the plumbing in a
house to assembling a car engine to transferring a file from one
computer to another. Consider the canonically simple act of writing a
letter longhand , putting it in an envelope, and mailing it . There are
standards for paper size, the distance between lines in lined paper,
envelope size, the glue on the envelope, the size of stamps, their glue,
the ink in a pen, the sharpness of its nib , the composition of the paper
(which in turn can be broken do”‘!’n to the nature of the watermark , if
any; the degree of recycled material used in its production , the defini tion of what counts as recycling), and so forth .
Similarly , in an)Tbureaucracy, classifications abound- consider the
simple but increasingly common classifications that are used when you
dial an airline for information (” if you are traveling domestically, press
1″ ; ” if you want information about flight arriv’als and departures .
. . .” ). And once the airline has you on the line , you are classified by
them as a frequent flyer (normal , gold or platinum ); corporate or
38
Chapter
1
Becoming an Irate
Howard Becker relates a delightful anecdote concerning his classification by an airline . A relative working for one of the airlines told him
how desk clerks handle customer complaints . The strategy is first to try
to solve the problem . If the customer remains unsatisfied and becomes
very
angry
in
the
process
, the
clerk
dubs
him
or
her
” an
irate
. ” The
clerk then calls the supervisor , ” I ha “l’e an irate on the line ,” shorthand
for the catego11Y of an irritated
passenger
.
One day Becker was having a difficult interaction with the same
airline
. He
called
the
airline
desk
, and
in
a calm
tone
of
voice
, said ,
” Hello , my name is Howard Becker and I ‘m an irate . Can you help me
with this ticket ?” The clerk began to sputter, ” How did you know that
word ?” Becker had succeeded in unearthing a little of the hidden
classificatory apparatus behind the scenesat the airline . He notes that
the interaction after this speeded up and went particularly smoothly.
individual ; tourist or business class; short haul or long haul (different
fare rates and scheduling apply ).
This categorical saturation furthermore forms a complex web. Al though it is possible to pullout a single classification scheme or standard for reference purposes, in reality none of them stand alone. So
a subproperty of ubiquity is interdependence , and frequently , integra tion . .iL systemsapproach might see the proliferation of both standards
and classifications as purely a matter of integration – almost like a
gigantic web of interoperability . Yet the sheer density of these phenom ena go beyond questions of interoperability . They are layered, tangled ,
textured ; they interact to form an ecology as well as a flat set of
compatibilities . That is to say, they facilitate the coordination of heterogeneous ” dispositifs techniques” (Foucault 1975). They are lodged
in different communities of practice such as laboratories , records
offices , insurance companies , and so forth .9 There are spaces between
(unclassified, nonstandard areas), of course, and these are equally
important to the analysis. It seems that increasingly these spacesare
marked
as unclassified
and
nonstandard
.
It is a struggle to step back from this complexity
and think about
the issue of ubiquity rather than try to trace the myriad connections
in anyone case. The ubiquity of classifications and standards is curi ously difficult to see, as we are quite schooled in ignoring both , for a
variety of interesting reasons. We also need concepts for under –
Some
standing
movements
within
the

(
Others

cept

not
In
needs
to
tory
cure
with
multiply
,

and
The
second
ha
,
ded
in
the
nature
as
,
re

,
rhythm
,
to
see
.
mation
.
requirements
.
and
is
If
then
the
trajec

interactions
in
ecological
that
the
exam

classifications
do
?
as
built
They
sway
properties
of
of
built
mind
.
into
environment
(
as
this
the
inheritances
are
such
perceive
Under
cultural
.
and
we
with
and
and
But
embed
in

many
of
engineered
schemes
,
how
the
trick
genetic
is
to
write
~ riting
types
categories
to
a
for
try
to
of
all
,
objects
and
various
list
program
,
code
the
of
the
the
Java
code
consists
.
,
notes
they
classifications
hardware
pages
,
,
and
them
matches
metacategories
;
on
other
and
to
So
move
on
around
and
run
in
seeing
conventional
based
shift
could
of
categories
natural
the
standards
list
types
,
,
difficult
involved
innovations
keys
Perhaps
be
work
desktop

and
apparently
lines
make
speed
.
the
and
plastic
manuals
were
w
a
some
and
strike
consult
we
on
en
as
can
every
for
physical

instructions
implemented
look
or
ofphysi
such
question
the
mixture
schemes
and
project
between
they
a
software
intertwined
us
a
or
are
of
constraints
and
,
specifications
web
around
,
plugs
are
arrangements
the
Within
time
in
include
the
programmers
If
a
which
the

How
floating
world
forms
world
easy
,
time
classifications
,
,
,
the
same
involved
tions
,
conventional
desktop
.

given
phenomenon
the
.
conventional
moving
the
the
paper
mixture
computer
within
forth

.
standardization
and
general
it
con
trajec
is
,
and
world
or
in
as
,
seamlessly
when
at
such
in
making
in
see
borderlands
this
In
easiness
,
effect
this
textured
to
of
dimension
of
illness
so
.
such
mess
back
symbolic
numbers
culture
silicon
because
as
easy
and
in
Another
an
see
concept
cumulative
and
residual
such
.
entities
coded
is
feature
classification
cal
it
force
every
)
one
.

point
well
and
ideal
material
organisms
All
as
classified
standards
they
We
look
is
side
all
to
)
has
,
departure
,
idealism
and
a
turn
standards
places
material
saturated
cognitive

serious
cannot
patterns
Texture
are
densely
other
call
a
grasp
of
order
)
.
will
39
distribution
one
results
methodological
standards
1985
incurs
and
rich

medicine

categories
particularly
Materiality
(
you
mess
of
are
but
that
cumulative
interaction
.
Classification
The
social
al
another
tangled
or
when
,
Analyzing
that
.
occurs
illness
treated
in
shifts

et
this
the
so
and
st11ucturing
Strauss
,
becomes
ples
,
what
be
,
Trade
phenomenon
everywhere
to
the
classified
medicine
medicine
textures
elsewhere
be
. ”
of
larger
are
might
tory
,
ubiquitous
categories
Tricks
infor
a

standards
.
Classifica

between
such
40
Chapter1
asthe goodnessof fit of the pieceof codewith the larger systemunder
development. Standardsrange from the precise integration of the
underlying hardware to the 60Hz power coming out of the wall
through a standard sizeplug.
Merely reducing the description to the physicalaspectsuch as the
plug doesnot get us anY”,Thereinterestingabout the actualmixture of
physicaland conventionalor symbolic. A good operationsresearcher
could describehow and whether things would work together, often
purposefully blurring the ph)Tsicaland conventional boundaries in
making the analysis. But what is missingis a senseof the landscapeof
work asexperiencedby thosewithin it. It givesno senseof something
asimportant asthe texture of an organization: Is it smootho …
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