Classification Essay

For this paper, I would like to talk about Amazon classification system.Your goal in this paper is to examine the descriptive and retrieval-oriented elements of your classification system. This semester has generally been concerned with the efficacy and “goodness” of classification systems, and how well their identities match the entities they represent, or communities they are meant to cater to. This essay will provide you the opportunity to use the intellectual tools you’ve gained in this class to make your own comprehensive judgment about one classification system. Unlike your former projects which asked you to build and compare systems using careful description, evidence, and some research sources, this is a research paper requires that you look to original research articles and books to really dig down into the theoretical and technical elements of your given system. Once again, the classification system you choose need not be a traditional, hierarchical system, just make sure that whichever system you choose you know it very well and that that expertise comes through in your paper. Recall that Jonathan Furner has provided the framework for this entire course in terms of how we understand and produce difference kinds of “identities” within knowledge organization systems—in terms of representing things (objects, concepts, people) as a kind of description-oriented systems, as well as in terms of how navigable a system is and how well it helps people “people find the documents they think they want to find” as retrieval-oriented system.* Your goal in this paper is to examine the descriptive- and retrieval-oriented elements of your classification system. Furner begins his paper by outlining the four elements he is going to examine to assess whether a KO system is good at representing identity: • Identity; • Knowledge organization; • Representation; and • Goodness. Analytic tools and concepts need to use:• Goodness and a descriptive system and goodness and retrieval system,• Metadata elements,• Standards,• Relationships — How are they created, fostered, or valued?• Aboutness,• Infrastructure: administration, institutional context, labor, technologies, infrastructural inversion.Be sure that you hit upon each of these broad elements in your paper in a way that a reader can explicitly locate a clear discussion of each of these elements. You will note that the course has been designed to support these four elements, so you have a great deal more expertise about these matters than you might realize! Some broad and narrow questions you might ask are:• What kinds of “identities” are at play in your system? Or at least those worth pointing out as significant for your purposes? (See Section 2.0.) • How are relationships built here, and how can we understand the identity of these relationships in relation to the concepts in the system? • What kinds of personal and social identities are at play here and significant for your critique? • What is the KO system’s identity as a functional object, and how does this identity help us understand it as a system that must also retrieve information? (Section 3.) • Is how your system modeled important to any of the issues that you have raised? I can go on and on, but you get the picture. Go through the structure of this course, and the structure of Furner’s article, and ponder, explicate, research, browse, ask questions, read, download, discuss, and do whatever else you have to do, to understand your system inside and out. Paper Length Your explanations, interpretations, and comparisons should take the form of a cohesive essay of about 2,700 words. Your essay should have a clearly identified argument and structure. Grading Criteria • Basics: Does it meet the minimum length requirements, format, and include images and references? • Research: Are the references of good quality, well-used, and properly cited? • Argument: Does the exhibit have a clear argument stated in a thesis, is it well-presented, demonstrated, and sustained? • Paper Logic: Are the sections of the paper clear and do they support your thesis in a developed manner? • Presentation: Is the writing (and, if applicable, images) carefully presented, proofed, and finished? • Quality of thought: Is the work developed, reflective, and thoughtful?

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Knowl. Org. 36(2009)No.1
J. Furner. Interrogating “Identity”: A Philosophical Approach to an Enduring Issue in Knowledge Organization
Interrogating “Identity”:
A Philosophical Approach to an Enduring Issue
in Knowledge Organization */**
Jonathan Furner
University of California, Los Angeles, UCLA-GSE&IS, 300 Young Dr N,
Mailbox 951520, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1520, USA
Jonathan Furner is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has a Ph.D. in information studies from the University of Sheffield, and an M.A. in philosophy and social theory from the University of Cambridge.
He works on cultural informatics, and the history and philosophy of documentation. His current research includes studies of social tagging, art museum documentation, and the metaphysics of documents and their subjects.
Furner, Jonathan. Interrogating “Identity”: A Philosophical Approach to an Enduring Issue
in Knowledge Organization. Knowledge Organization, 36(1), 3-16. 28 references.
ABSTRACT: Empirical evaluation of knowledge organization (KO) systems, and of the tools and techniques that are used to
build systems, is a key component of the system design process: our success in building better systems depends at least partly
on our ability to measure the goodness of current systems, and to recognize the factors that affect system performance. The
basic evaluative question might be expressed quite simply: How good are the representations or models—models of the world,
of our knowledge of the world, and/or of expressions of our knowledge of the world—that are produced by our usage of particular KO methods? The straightforwardness of this question is offset by a preliminary need to address metaphysical issues of
various kinds, consideration of which can lead us into a quagmire of methodological, epistemological, and ethical problems.
What, in this context, is “goodness”? What is the fundamental nature of the kinds of things to be represented? What are the
conditions that must be satisfied for a single individual thing to retain its identity over time, and for two individual things to be
instances of “the same” kind of thing? Where are the boundaries to be drawn between one thing (or kind of thing) and another? Where does one thing (or kind of thing) stop and another start? How can we come to know the answers to questions
about identity, and how we can know when we know? How have we answered questions about identity in different ways at different times and in different places? How ought we to answer questions about identity, and what justifications can we provide
in support of our normative claims? As is indicated by the conference organizers’ choice of theme for ISKO 2008, designers
and evaluators of KO schemes contend on an ongoing basis with issues relating to identity, and a philosophically-informed engagement with such issues is an essential preliminary to understanding evaluation criteria for KO activity. In this talk, the utility for KO of philosophical theories of identity is examined, and motivation is provided for the additional use of such a philosophical framework in evaluating the extent to which KO schemes successfully reflect the cultural identities of their users.
* Keynote speech delivered at the 10th International ISKO Conference (Montréal, Canada, August 5-8, 2008) August 6, 2008.
** Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Clément Arsenault and Joe Tennis, conference chair and program chair respectively, for the very kind invitation that resulted in my giving this talk at the 10th International ISKO Conference.
1.0 Introduction
The topic of this paper is the significance for knowledge organization of analyses of the concept of identity. My motivation for choosing this topic is the
theme of the 10th International ISKO Conference,
which is “Culture and identity in knowledge organization.” One claim that is implicit in that choice of
theme is that there exists at least one issue that has to
do with identity and that has an impact on the goals
of researchers in knowledge organization (KO) or the
results of their work. I am going to take the liberty in
Knowl. Org. 36(2009)No.1
J. Furner. Interrogating “Identity”: A Philosophical Approach to an Enduring Issue in Knowledge Organization
this paper of suggesting one way in which that claim
may be interpreted. My position is that the primary
issue is one of evaluation. There is a strong claim being made here that you may or may not agree with,
and I will do a little more to argue for it later. This
strong claim is that, ultimately, it is our responsibility
as KO researchers to figure out how to build KO systems that work well. And to figure out how best to
go about determining how well KO systems work.
In this context, the issue is specifically one of
evaluating how KO systems do at handling identity.
Now, as we shall see, there are many ways in which
that word “identity” may be understood, and part of
the challenge is untangling all those different senses
in which the word may be used. But there are two
things we can do immediately to clarify certain aspects of the issue. One of those is to specify that
when we talk about how well KO systems deal with
identity, we are really talking about one in particular
of the functions of KO systems, which is that of representation. KO schemes are representations or models of reality. We may disagree vehemently about what
things, or what kinds of things, count as real things;
but I would be surprised to encounter a conception
of KO schemes that does not include the representational function as a necessary condition for being a
KO scheme. So, the question becomes: How well do
KO systems represent identity? Secondly, there seems
to be an important sense in which we can distinguish
between identity singular and identities plural. On
the face of it, it seems as if there is a distinction to be
made between identity as a relation between things,
in the sense in which something might be said to be
identical with or the same as something, and identities
as properties of things, in the sense in which something might be said to have a particular identity.
There appears to be a way of breaking down the
basic question—How well do KO systems represent
identity?—into two separate questions that correspond respectively to senses of identity as relation
and identity as property. In the first place, we might
ask, How well do KO systems represent relationships
of identity between classes of documents? And how
well do KO systems help indexers and searchers explore those relationships? In the second place, we
might ask, How well do KO systems help indexers,
classifiers, catalogers organize knowledge about the
personal or social identities of members of social
groups? How well do KO systems help people find
the right labels for classes of documents that are
about those identities, and help people find those
documents? Even though both of these kinds of
question are about identity, they are often treated
quite separately in the KO literature. Sometimes the
relationship between them is emphasized, but certainly not always. One of the objectives of this paper
is to demonstrate that it is at least somewhat helpful
to emphasize the relationship by considering the two
questions in tandem. And a subsidiary objective is to
show that it is at least possible, if not desirable, to do
this using a conceptual framework that looks to philosophy on the one hand, and information retrieval
on the other, for inspiration.
The primary objective, however, is to defend a series of related propositions. These are as follows:
– firstly, that identity is analyzable in a way that can
inform our decisions about how to analyze two
other relations that have historically been considered very important in KO, and they are aboutness
and relevance;
– secondly, that the production of identity, in a sense
that will be explained later, could usefully be considered to be the ultimate goal of KO;
– thirdly, that achieving the effective representation
in KO systems of personal and social identities is a
complex special case of a general challenge facing
some traditional KO techniques; and thus
– that the concept of identity is central to KO, possibly even more central than its selection as this
particular conference’s theme indicates.
The approach that I will be taking is one that involves
analysis of the concepts that we use to talk about issues. In my characterization of the main issue as one
of determining how well KO systems do at representing identity, there are four core concepts: (i) identity;
(ii) knowledge organization; (iii) representation; and
(iv) goodness. The sense of goodness that I use here
is just the sense in which some KO systems are good,
some are bad, and therefore some are better than others, at doing certain things. This is very similar to the
sense in which María López-Huertas uses “quality” in
her contribution to the special issue of Knowledge
Organization on the topic “What is knowledge organization?” (López-Huertas 2008). María LópezHuertas explicitly identifies “quality” as something to
aim for in the design of KO systems, and the implication is that evaluation of quality is an absolutely necessary component of the KO system design process.
Knowl. Org. 36(2009)No.1
J. Furner. Interrogating “Identity”: A Philosophical Approach to an Enduring Issue in Knowledge Organization
2.0 Identity
User identifier, object identifier, work identifier, record
So, first, to identity itself. The magnitude of the challenge here might be demonstrated simply by listing
some of the kinds of identity that are dealt with in
the various literatures (see Table 1). I did make some
effort to be exhaustive with this listing, but I still
have the feeling that this is really just the tip of the
iceberg. In the first place we have various conceptions
of individual, personal, or self identity, to be distinguished from various conceptions of group, collective, or social identity. We can distinguish the different kinds of identity defined in different domains of
theory and practice, such as cultural, economic, and
psychological identity. If we focus on personal and
social identity, there are all sorts of dimensions on
which different identities may be distinguished, so
that we talk about racial, sexual, and linguistic identity, and so on. If we take a metaphysical or logical
approach to identity, we find that it is possible to distinguish numerical and qualitative, relative and absolute, synchronic and diachronic identity.
Identity problem, theory, politics, crisis, theft, status,
Individual, personal, self
Group, collective, shared, communal, community, social
Cultural, political, economic, psychological, legal, metaphysical, logical, mathematical
Racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, national, linguistic, religious, professional, occupational, familial
Numerical, qualitative, relative, absolute, synchronic,
diachronic, transworld
Disciplinary, institutional, departmental
Corporate, brand, product, visual
Mistaken, split
Digital, electronic, virtual, online
User, object, work, bibliographic, record, citation
Table 1. Kinds of identity.
In addition, there are a whole slew of related concepts
(see Table 2). These are not kinds of identity, so much
as concepts whose meaning could usefully be clarified
in any analysis of identity. There are concepts that
seem to have very similar meanings to identity, such
as sameness, identicality, similarity, and indiscernibility. There are concepts that seem to have opposite
meanings, such as individuality, uniqueness, distinctness, difference, and diversity. And then there are lots
of things that can be done to and with and by and
through identity and identities—including organization, classification, and categorization, of course. A
conceptual minefield!
Sense of identity
Property, relation, image, role
Privacy, security, confidentiality, trust, reputation, verification, authentication
Sameness, identicality, similarity, indiscernibility
Individuality, uniqueness, distinctness, difference, diversity
Authenticity, cohesion, coherence, tolerance, hybridity
Formation, construction, capture, representation, exploration, manipulation, management
Identification, individuation, differentiation, discrimination, instantiation, exemplification, characterization
Organization, classification, categorization
Table 2. Related concepts.
Even if we limit ourselves to looking at philosophical
approaches to the study of identity (see, e.g., Noonan
2006; Heyes 2007), the literature is enormous and
varied and scattered very widely. Different analytical
approaches have been taken in philosophy of logic,
metaphysics, social and political philosophy, philosophy of technology, and philosophy of art, as well as in
what we might call philosophy of documentation or
even philosophy of knowledge organization.
Let us return to the basic distinction made earlier,
between identity conceived as a relation and identity
conceived as a property. Sometimes we talk about
“the identity of x and y”; sometimes we talk about
“the identity of x.” What is going on here?
2.1 Identity as a relation
Taking identity as a relation first, here are definitions
of two senses of identity. First of all, we say that object x and object y are numerically identical if x is the
same object as y. Notice that it does sound a little
odd if we say “two objects, x and y, are identical.” It
sounds odd precisely because, in the case of identity,
we do not have two objects. The whole point is, we
just have one. In fact, more generally, we might say
that x and y are identical if they are countable as one
thing. This is why identity in this sense is sometimes
known specifically as numerical identity. Secondly, we
can contrast numerical identity with qualitative indiscernibility. We say that x and y are qualitatively indiscernible if x has all and only the same properties as y.
And here is some more terminology: If x is not the
same object as y, then we say that x and y are numeri-
Knowl. Org. 36(2009)No.1
J. Furner. Interrogating “Identity”: A Philosophical Approach to an Enduring Issue in Knowledge Organization
cally distinct or individual. And if x does not have all
and only the same properties as y, then we say that x
and y are qualitatively discernible or dissimilar.
So we have introduced two kinds of relation here:
continuous relations and binary relations. A relation
is a continuous relation (i.e., a relation of degree) if its
value can be represented by any point on a line. A relation is a binary relation if its value can be represented only by one or other of the two poles of a line.
Continuous relations are ones like indiscernibility
and similarity, where we can happily talk about indiscernibility as a matter of degree. Two things can be
more or less indiscernible, more or less similar. In
contrast, binary relations are ones like numerical
identity. Two things are either identical (in which case
they are actually one thing) or they are not.
In his Discourse on metaphysics of 1686, the rationalist philosopher Gottfried Leibniz said: “No two
substances resemble each other entirely and differ in
number alone.” From this statement, which has come
to be known as Leibniz’s Law, modern metaphysicians have derived two principles or theories—the
principle of the ident(ical)ity of indiscernibles, and the
principle of the indiscernibility of identicals (see, e.g.,
Forrest 2006). The principle of the identity of indiscernibles states that, if x and y are qualitatively indiscernible, then they are numerically identical. This
statement is logically equivalent to the statement that
only if x and y are identical are they indiscernible. In
other words, indiscernibility is a sufficient condition
for identicality, and identicality is a necessary condition for indiscernibility. Correspondingly, the principle of the indiscernibility of identicals is that, if x and
y are numerically identical, then they are qualitatively
indiscernible. Taken together, the two principles imply that x and y are identical if and only if they share
all and only the same properties.
Even though these principles may appear, on face
value, to be reasonable—tautologous even—each of
them has actually turned out to be fairly controversial.
Some people argue that it is possible for two things to
resemble each other entirely, thus denying the principle of the identity of indiscernibles; and many people
argue that it is possible for x and y to be numerically
identical but qualitatively discernible—for example,
when x is me-before-this-talk, and y is me-after-it.
Whether we are convinced by these arguments may
depend on what we count as properties. Weak versions
of the principles count so-called extrinsic properties
(i.e., relations to other objects) among the properties
that must be considered when evaluating indiscernibility; strong versions do not count extrinsic properties.
The problem of identity over time—diachronic identity—remains a live issue in philosophical debate (see,
e.g., Gallois 2005). The paradox of the ship of Theseus
might be familiar in this context. Every day that Theseus’s ship is in the harbor, a single plank gets replaced, until after a few years the ship is completely
rebuilt: not a single original plank remains. Is it still
the ship of Theseus? And suppose, meanwhile, the
shipbuilders have been building a new ship out of the
replaced planks? Is that the ship of Theseus?
This is essential background material for any discussion about identity conditions (a.k.a. identity criteria). The questions here are about two kinds of conditions, in fact: about the conditions under which x
should be considered the very same thing as y, and
about the conditions under which x should be considered an instance of the same kind of thing that y is
an instance of. We might like to distinguish on this
basis between criteria for individuation and criteria
for instantiation. Although this terminology is not
really standardized, it is clear that these are very different questions. And in fact they are questions that
lots of people in KO and in the information sciences
more generally are interested in, because they are exactly the kinds of questions that need to be answered
if we are going to do a good job of designing systems
that can determine mechanically whether one document is an instance of the same work, or class, or
kind, or type, as another document.
Allen Renear and Richard Smiraglia and others are
authorities in this area. Some of Allen Renear’s work
aims to establish identity conditions for digital objects and clarify, for instance, what it means to say
that one version of an electronic document, such as
its XML code, is an instance of “the same” document
as another version, such as its rendering in a browser
(see, e.g., Renear 2007). This work has ramifications
for Richard Smiraglia’s studies of workhood, and
what a FRBRized conception—of the relations between works, expressions, manifestations, and
items—means for attempts to specify identity conditions for works (see, e.g., Smiraglia 2001). Here the
main question is, Given two items, how can we tell
whether they are instances of the same work or of
different works? There is a school of thought that
these kinds of problems are less problems of identity,
as such, as they are problems of workhood, since different kinds of things are going to have different
identity conditions, and the interesting thing about
works is not that they have properties that serve as
identity conditions, but what those properties are
that literally define what it means to be a work.
Knowl. Org. 36(2009)No.1
J. Furner. Interrogating “Identity”: A Philosophical Approach t …
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