Week 3 — Class Culture

Classification is, strictly speaking, the assignment of some thing to a class; more generally, it is the grouping together of objects into classes. A class, in turn, is a collection (formally, a set) of objects which share some property.

Classification is the way we divide and organise things into categorise based on certain characteristics of the objects that we are classifying. With the huge amount of information in the world, from all the way in the past, to the present, and increasingly, in the future, it is necessary to classify and organise this information in order for them to be analysed and used more effectively. Typically, societies classify things according to their purpose, what they see as important, or what they pay attention to. When we look at how different things are being classified, we are able to identify the characteristics that were important to the people in that time period that the objects were classified. Sperberg-McQueen describes a few kinds of classifications.

One-dimensional classifications are essentially things that are grouped according to one particular characteristic that they share with each other. For example:


An art piece can be classified under Style, or Genre, or the Artist, and many art pieces can be grouped together according to these different classifications, depending on our purpose of classification in order to see the big picture.

Similarly, time period could be another one-dimensional classification which Sperberg-McQueen mentions is ordinal, meaning the classes fall into some sort of sequence or order, in this case, the year in which they were created.


Sperberg-McQueen also talks about classification as n-dimensional spaces, which is classification that has a tree structure, and a “hierarchy of increasingly fine distinctions”. An example of this can commonly be seen in the classification of life.


This shows the classification of mammals using the tree structure, where mammals are grouped together based on karyotype, as this article was written about genome diversity and the evolution of mammals. This method of classification shows how the interest of the article is in the sequence in which the mammals have evolved, in relation to one another.

Classification also includes a sense of controlled vocabulary, whereby there is a set of “labels” that are established and attached to the objects in question in order for those who seek information to find them easily.

In that sense, classification can also be seen as a kind of culture, as those inside the culture would understand the classification and be able to relate to it and use it to find the information that they need, for the purpose that they are using the information for.

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