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Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences

Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences
Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star
Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press
Publication Date: 

paper, 377 p., $17.953

Why is classification important? To begin to understand the nature of the world, we need to understand how diverse the world is — whether the categories are plants, books, minerals or people. As authors Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star plainly put it, "To classify is human."

This wonderful book has three parts. In the first section, the authors look at large-scale organizations of information. They examine the international classification of diseases — a century-old system that has implications far beyond its scientific value. The second section of the book covers the effects of classifying people. For example, the authors examine how classification affected people afflicted with tuberculosis and those who endured apartheid in South Africa. The book's last section discusses the classification of jobs, including a detailed examination of the nursing profession and its Nursing Interventions Classification (NIC).

By the end of this book, you will agree with the authors that classification is powerful, at times invisible and can even be life-threatening. You will not regard a form, a taxonomic name or an organizational chart the same way after reading this thought-provoking book.

— Edward J. Valauskas, Manager, Library and Plant Information Office, Chicago Botanic Garden