“The Notion of ‘Category’: Its Implications in Subject Analysis and in the Construction and Evaluation of Indexing Languages”

In this article, Barite attempts to provide new insight into the study of categories. Noting that information organization research has moved in other directions than categories, he asks what we really “designate” when we make reference to categories, as some have said there’s no settled definition. Barite points out the varied definitions through history, mainly provided by philosophers. It was with Ranganathan that the concept entered the purview of the classification of knowledge. While admiring Ranganathan and his successors’ work, Bairte suggests that many of the questions about categories are a little too self-evident and so have been overlooked. He begins by saying that tisn’t possible to “characterize categories in the Theory of Classification” using definitions provided by philosophy or suchlike. Rather, they are just starting points to tell us that categories are very abstract concepts, and so are tools that can help us understand some regularities of the world. All material objects have certain properties (categories) by which they can be organized. With this in mind he defines “categories as simplified abstractions that, with the strength of intellectual instruments, are used by classificationists to investigate regularities of objects of the physical and ideal world and for representing notions.” This preserves categories only for instruments of analysis and organization of objects in the Theory of Classification. Bairte then elaborates the ways that classificationists use categories, including designing/planning/structuring indexing languages and/or knowledge systems, changing classification tables, and evaluating the indexing languages and systems. Use of categories makes it easier for classifiers to do subject analysis because it establishes the right precedence of subjects in a material. He does posit that it is impossible to separate category from object and analyst – the analyst is the one who chooses the categories, which are therefore subjective to his/her ideas. He also notes that “every object gives origin to infinite aspects for its analysis” (6). This is shaped and influenced by the fact that objects have certain attributes that dictate how they are to be studied. These influences include the fact that 1. an object is “naturally dynamic and mutable,” and so must be captured at a specific time; 2. and object can be real or ideal – so it could be something historical or something immaterial; 3. sometimes it is hard to encapsulate all parts of an object into a single whole, as division into objects creates differences between experts (the example given for this is the problem of finding consensus over the definition of “labor flexibilization” when a Marxist and ultra-liberal scholar are involved.); 4. lots of objects have a crazy lot of configurations and exist both as processes and as results of processes. He then goes on to discuss the characters of categories, saying that every category is a sectorial one, every category implies a specific level of analysis, categories are levels of analysis external to the object, categories are mutually exclusive, every category is highly generalizable, every category has variable levels of subdivision (facets), and nobody agrees on a limited collection of categories.

So far as I understood it, this article was well done. But the fact that I had so much trouble understanding it speaks either to a deficiency on my or his part.