Results for: Classification as World-Making

KNOW 36065: Classification as World-Making

  • Course Level:
  • Department:
  • Year: 2020-21
  • Term: Spring

Alexander Campolo

“To classify,” write Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Star, “is human.” There can be no doubt that classification sits at the heart of almost any form of knowledge production—arguably even thought itself. But what diversity hides under such atruism? This course will explore a set of exemplary fields in order to track genealogies and discontinuities in classificatory. We will begin with two philosophers, Aristotle and Kant, who stand as respective avatars of ancient and modern categorical thought. We will then proceed to sites where classification has flourished: the biological sciences which sought to capture the diversity of the living world; the social sciences—notably anthropology—which challenged the universality of Western cultural categories; and statistics or data science, which seek to understand numerical aggregates as categories. We will conclude by reflecting on the present explosion of digital techniques of classification, from social media algorithms to artificial intelligence, which structure more and more of our lives, often without human oversight. In this sense, classification is perhaps nonhuman as well. Moving between history, epistemology, and practice, this course will furnish students with a rich set of classificatory ideas that they can bring to their own research and disciplinary communities. Above all, it will ask students to account for both the construction and effects of categories, which are too often taken to be a neutral substrate of knowledge or conversely a means of imposing discipline on the wild diversity of the world.