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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Burning Down the Shelf: Standardized Classification, Folksonomies, and Ontological Politics


Classification systems are ridden with politics of ontologies, diverse ways of being. These politics allude to power structures that are inherent in classification, especially with regards to classification systems that have been standardized. Standardized classification alludes to the authority of a privileged ontology and/or perspective, and runs the risk of perpetuating "informational imperialism" through homogenization. In contrast, folksomies acknowledge local and situated knowledges by including the voices of multiple ontologies, rather than prescribing how information should be organized. This paper employs assemblage theory as a framework by which to analyze folksonomies, and how they contrast with standardized classification. Folksonomies recognize the tensions that exist between assemblages and their respective ontologies and ways of knowing and being, and allow for the emergence of knowledge that is negotiated and co-produced. In conclusion, this paper recommends combining standardized and vernacular classification for the benefits of both: the ability for standardized classification to span spatial and temporal bounds, and the ability for folksonomic classification to acknowledge multiple ways of being and build relationships through emergent knowledge.

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