Social classification

The term "social classification" is ambiguous.  It may mean, for example:

  1. Division of a population into social classes (see Rose, 1995).

  2. Social "bias" in classification: How social/cultural contexts are reflected in (any) classification (see culture and epistemology in knowledge organization; see also Ibsen, 2004).

  3. Social organization of knowledge as contrasted to intellectual organization of knowledge.

  4. Classification in the social sciences (see Feger, 2001) - not to be confused with classification of the social sciences (see Wallerstein, 1996; Hjørland, 2000).

  5. Collaborative (or distributed) classification: Classifications produced by different persons: "people taxonomies" or folksonomies. This last meaning was used by Furner & Tennis (2006):

"Social classification is a convenient, generic label that may be used to refer to any of a number of broadly related processes by which the resources in a collection are categorized by multiple people over an ongoing period, with the potential result that any given resource will come to be represented by a set of labels or descriptors that have been generated by different people. The specific processes in question include indexing, tagging, bookmarking, annotation, and description of the kinds that may be characterized as collaborative, cooperative, distributed, dynamic, community-based, folksonomic, wikified, democratic, user-assigned, or user-generated. The mid-2000s have seen rapid growth in levels of interest in these kinds of technique for generating descriptions of resources for the purposes of discovery, access, and retrieval. Systems that provide automated support for social classification may be implemented at low cost, and are perceived to contribute to the democratization of classification by empowering people who might otherwise remain strictly information consumers to become information producers. " (Furner & Tennis, 2006).


To regard only collaborative classification as "social" is an extremely  narrow conception of the word "social". When classification is done by individuals it is also social because the concepts with which the thoughts are made are social constructions. This is related to the late Wittgenstein's criticism of the idea of a "private language". Se also the concept "social" in Epistemological Lifeboat.





Albrechtsen, H. (2003). Classification schemes for collection mediation : work centered design and cognitive work analysis. Ålborg: Department of Computer Science, University of Aalborg. Ph.D. thesis. Available:


Feger, H. (2001). Classification: Conceptions in the social sciences. IN: Smelser, N. J. & Baltes, P. B. (eds.): International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. (Vol. 3, pp. 1966-1973)


Furner, J. & Tennis, J. (2006). Call for papers. 17th Annual ASIS&T SIG/CR Classification Research Workshop Saturday, November 4, 2006 -- Austin, TX).


Hjørland, B. (2000). Review of Wallerstein (1996). Open the Social Sciences, report of the Gulbenkian Commission on the Restructuring of the Social Sciences. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.  Knowledge Organization, 27(4), 238-241. Click for full-text.pdf


Ibsen, A. (2004). Classification of classification. Culture Matters, Class Weblog for Soc 508 at the University of Arizona


Rose, D. (1995). Official Social Classifications in the UK. Social Research Update, issue 9,


Wallerstein, I. (1996). Open the Social Sciences, report of the Gulbenkian Commission on the Restructuring of the Social Sciences. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. 


Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (2006). Folksonomy.



See also: Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW); Wikipedia; Social organization of knowledge




Birger Hjørland

Last edited: 26-07-2006