A few weeks ago I attended a talk by Geoffrey Bowker, professor and “Senior Scholar in Cyberscholarship” at the University of Pittsburgh School of Information Sciences. This was part of the Digital Libraries & Cyberscholarship Colloquium Series, which continues next Tuesday and again in December.
I don’t have time to write a post that would do justice to Prof. Bowker’s talk, so I just decided to link to his website, which can provide a better idea of the topics he has been investigating (data sharing, interoperability, classification, standards, meta-narratives…). The main subject of the talk I attended was “social and organizational features of emerging scientific cyberinfrastructures”, but now that I’ve skimmed this paper, “How things (actor-net)work: Classification, magic and the ubiquity of standards“, I’m more curious about the book Bowker co-authored with Susan Leigh Star: Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences (MIT Press, 1999).
What I find most interesting about Prof. Bowker’s approach (as it was represented in his talk at SIS) is how historical it is, and how he draws his examples from various disciplines and makes connections between them, especially in terms of “storytelling” and organizational behavior. I think this type of analysis is especially enjoyable when applied to classification systems, since they have such a long history and are such dependable vessels of ideology. In fact, I’ve read another book that takes a similar approach: Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages by Alex Wright (National Academies Press, 2007). Wright’s website offers an annotated bibliography to his book; this is a great resource for anyone interested in the history of human efforts to represent and organize knowledge and information.