Question
Asked 27th Jan, 2015
  • EDHEC Business School Lille

What is the difference between a typology and a taxonomy?

Often the terms typology and taxonomy are used interchangeably. Yet, I believe there are fundamental differences. What are your scientific views?

Most recent answer

4th Jul, 2020
Maksim Godovykh
University of Central Florida
Typology vs taxonomy
5 Recommendations

Popular answers (1)

2nd Feb, 2015
Mohannad AL-Saghir
Ohio University
This will answer your question, I really like this article.
From "Typologies, taxonomies, and the benefits of policy classification" by Kevin B. Smith (Policy Studies Journal, Sep 2002):
There are two basic approaches to classification. The first is typology, which conceptually separates a given set of items multidimensionally… The key characteristic of a typology is that its dimensions represent concepts rather than empirical cases. The dimensions are based on the notion of an ideal type, a mental construct that deliberately accentuates certain characteristics and not necessarily something that is found in empirical reality (Weber, 1949). As such, typologies create useful heuristics and provide a systematic basis for comparison. Their central drawbacks are categories that are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive, are often based on arbitrary or ad hoc criteria, are descriptive rather than explanatory or predictive, and are frequently subject to the problem of reification (Bailey, 1994).
A second approach to classification is taxonomy. Taxonomies differ from typologies in that they classify items on the basis of empirically observable and measurable characteristics (Bailey, 1994, p. 6). Although associated more with the biological than the social sciences (Sokal & Sneath, 1964), taxonomic methods–essentially a family of methods generically referred to as cluster analysis–are usefully employed in numerous disciplines that face the need for classification schemes (Lorr, 1983; Mezzich & Solomon, 1980).
35 Recommendations

All Answers (25)

27th Jan, 2015
Abedallah M Rababah
United Arab Emirates University
The following article entitled:"Classification, Typology, Taxonomy" by Alberto Marradi discusses this issue.
Summary: The semantic field associated with the term ‘classification’, three main intellectual and/or
practical operations, and three different products, can be identified — there being no one-to-one
correspondence between operations and products.
Through intensional classification, the extension of a concept at a given level of generality is
subdivided into two or more narrower extensions corresponding to as many concepts at lower level of
generality; this subdivision is obtained by stating that an aspect of the intension of each of the latter
concepts is a different partial articulation of the corresponding aspect of the intension of the higher
concept.
Through extensional classification, the objects or events of a given set are grouped into two or
more subsets according to the perceived similarities of their states on one or (more frequently) several
properties; subsets may be successively grouped into subsets of wider extension and higher
hierarchical level.
Through classing, objects or events are assigned to classes or types which have been previously
defined, usually by an intensional classification, but possibly by an extensional one operating on a
different set.
When only one fundamentum divisionis is considered, a classification scheme is produced —
usually by an intensional classification. The extensions of each class must be mutually exclusive, and
jointly exhaustive. Classes need not be at the same level of generality, and may be ordered.
When several fundamenta are jointly considered, a typology is produced. This may be done
through either intensional or extensional classification. The underlying category space may be
“reduced” or reconstructed through “substruction”.
When several fundamenta are considered in succession through a series of intensional
classifications, a taxonomy is produced. Specific concepts/terms (such as taxon, rank, clade) are
needed to deal with taxonomies.
In the final chapter it is argued that the role of classification has been improperly assessed by
several different quarters: in particular by those who credit it with ontological capacities and tasks; by
those who see classificatory procedures as an old-fashioned activity to be abandoned in favour of
more “scientific” measurement; and by those who blame the retarded development of an
“explanatory” social science on the undue attention paid to classification by many of the founding
fathers of sociology and cognate disciplines.The full article is on the link:
15 Recommendations
27th Jan, 2015
Hashem Adnan Kilani
University of Jordan
I am with you Abedallah M Rababah .
4 Recommendations
27th Jan, 2015
Nelson Orringer
University of Connecticut
The etymology of both words gives clues to their differences. In Greek, táxos means an order, onom- means name, so the word "taxonomy" means naming genus or species. "Typo-" means a type of organism and -logy means a study.   Typology is therefore more general than taxonomy, which seems to fit inside it as a specification of typology. When you name a species, you apply principles of typology.  Linnaeus knew this when he named genus and species of plants and animals.  Can taxonomy impede typology? Under certain circumstances described by Marradi (see Dr. Abedallah's valuable entry). However, this is not a necessary relationship between the two sciences. 
7 Recommendations
27th Jan, 2015
Marcelo Negri Soares
Centro Universitário de Maringá
  1. typology is a system used for putting things into groups according to how they are similar; the study of how things can be divided into different types.
  2. Taxonomy in biological classification is based on characteristics derived from shared descent from common ancestors.
6 Recommendations
27th Jan, 2015
Subhash C. Kundu
Gurugram University Gurugram
Taxonomy: The science of classification as applied to living organisms.
Typology: Classification of things according to their physical characteristics.
2 Recommendations
27th Jan, 2015
Sherwan Ta
Salahaddin University - Erbil
Typology : the study or system of dividing a large group into smaller groups according to similar features or qualities .
Taxonomy: the science of organizing things such as plants or animals into a system of different groups according to the features that they share, and of giving them names .
2 Recommendations
27th Jan, 2015
Costas Drossos
University of Patras
Typology is the study of types. Typology may refer to:
• Typology (anthropology), division of culture by races
• Typology (archaeology), classification of artifacts according to their characteristics
• Typology (creation biology), system that classifies animals into groups called "created kinds" or "baramins"
• Typology (linguistics), study and classification of languages according to their structural features
• Typology (psychology), a model of personality types
• Typology (theology), in Christian theology, the interpretation of some characters and stories in the Old Testament as allegories foreshadowing the New Testament
• Typology (urban planning and architecture), the classification of characteristics common to buildings or urban spaces
• Typology (statistics), a concept in statistics, research design and social sciences
Taxonomy (from Ancient Greek: τάξις taxis, "arrangement," and -νομία -nomia, "method") on the other sense is the science of defining groups of biological organisms on the basis of shared characteristics and giving names to those groups.

It looks that typology is more general in some sense from taxonomy.
11 Recommendations
27th Jan, 2015
Dejenie Alemayehu Lakew
Hampton University
All of you offered stimulating arguments. From what have been said, taxonomy is a method of partitioning (with purposeful and identified parameters) and giving names while typology is again a process of partitioning (based on identified parameters) for the purpose of study.  When we partition we definitively use names (in mathematics we partition sets and have names for partitioned class which we call them equivalence classes) and therefore typology some how includes vaguely taxonomy.    
3 Recommendations
28th Jan, 2015
Ljubomir Jacić
Technical College Požarevac
Dear @Mohamed, glad to meet you again here at Research Gate. Regarding your question, there are two basic approaches to classification. "The first is typology, which conceptually separates a given set of items multidimensionally… The key characteristic of a typology is that its dimensions represent concepts rather than empirical cases..... Taxonomies differ from typologies in that they classify items on the basis of empirically observable and measurable characteristics ...."
5 Recommendations
Deleted profile
Respected Mohamed Benmerikhi
In my opinion Typology is the branch of knowledge especially used in social sciences that deals with classes with common characteristics but not exactly similar as in the physical sciences. If classes are in relation to or based on certain general laws or principles it is regarded as taxonomy. For former classification of human behavior and for later the systematic classification of living organisms can be an example.
Kind Regards
1 Recommendation
28th Jan, 2015
Shankhadeep Chakraborty
Techno India
At first, thank you for sharing this type of good question. I agree with Nelson's reply.
1 Recommendation
28th Jan, 2015
Costas Drossos
University of Patras
I wold like to comment that the answers took some more scientific path that it is needed. We would like here to have compact, intuitive answers that everybody understand. Actually classification Theory includes such subfields of Statistics:  
Cluster Analysis and Factor Analysis, Cluster Analysis and Multidimensional Scaling, Cluster Analysis and Multiple Discriminant Analysis, etc, See the attached document.
summarising:
"The term typology has a number of different uses, both within linguistics and without. The common definition of the term is roughly synonymous with 'taxonomy' or 'classification', a classification of the phenomenon under study into types, particularly structural types. This is the definition that is found outside of linguistics, for example in biology, a field that inspired linguistic theory in the nineteenth century."
3 Recommendations
29th Jan, 2015
Richard M Hessler
University of Missouri
Taxonomy is a scheme of classification.  The scheme should be based on observable features that have been measured in some objective fashion.  In this sense, taxonomies are empirical and operational. They are useful for descriptive analysis.
Typologies are useful fictions.  They are mental constructs that are designed to help one develop theory and methods of measurement, but are not measurable as such.  A type, e.g. Type A Personality, does not exist in a measurable form, but it has led to personality indicators that are measurable which in turn has helped build theories of human behavior.  The fiction part is that pure types do not exist in the measurable world, at least we have not been able to measure them as of yet. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche's übermensch was very useful to sociologists building theories of deviance, but the type is merely a mental construct.
12 Recommendations
30th Jan, 2015
Robert A D Cameron
The University of Sheffield
Context is all!  Conventional biological taxonomy uses many methods to define taxa at all levels. But there is a formal requirement to provide or designate type specimens, and although these have often been lost, or are disputed, the rule is that  the name allocated to it shall be the name allocated to specimens thought to belong to the same taxon, especially in the case of species. The designation of such a type specimen is inevitably arbitrary (I have examined cases where authors have picked out extremes as type specimens for two species when more extensive work reveals continuous variation between them). In practice, the system works quite well, but it is theoretically incompatible  with an evolutionary, population-based approach. Good taxonomists will try to designate a "typical" specimen as the type, rather than one on the margins of variation within a population, but  may well be constrained by the amount of material they have, and its limited distribution relative to the range of the species concerned. Arguably, typology is necessary for nomenclature, rather than for taxonomy itself.
5 Recommendations
1st Feb, 2015
Kevin Stoda
Kansas City Public Schools
I believe the biggest concern for me in the usage of terms is as follows: Delineation of Discreteness of Variables. 
Let us say the I have 5 definitions of terms under  a larger term, concept or element that encompasses those 5 definitions. 
It is often hard in many situations to clearly delineate whether the 5 definitions are discrete variables in the realm of social and language sciences which I work with. 
Discreteness of variables is a key facet of evaluation and the naming of variables for quantitative research.  It may be less important in qualitative analyses. 
2 Recommendations
2nd Feb, 2015
Mohannad AL-Saghir
Ohio University
This will answer your question, I really like this article.
From "Typologies, taxonomies, and the benefits of policy classification" by Kevin B. Smith (Policy Studies Journal, Sep 2002):
There are two basic approaches to classification. The first is typology, which conceptually separates a given set of items multidimensionally… The key characteristic of a typology is that its dimensions represent concepts rather than empirical cases. The dimensions are based on the notion of an ideal type, a mental construct that deliberately accentuates certain characteristics and not necessarily something that is found in empirical reality (Weber, 1949). As such, typologies create useful heuristics and provide a systematic basis for comparison. Their central drawbacks are categories that are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive, are often based on arbitrary or ad hoc criteria, are descriptive rather than explanatory or predictive, and are frequently subject to the problem of reification (Bailey, 1994).
A second approach to classification is taxonomy. Taxonomies differ from typologies in that they classify items on the basis of empirically observable and measurable characteristics (Bailey, 1994, p. 6). Although associated more with the biological than the social sciences (Sokal & Sneath, 1964), taxonomic methods–essentially a family of methods generically referred to as cluster analysis–are usefully employed in numerous disciplines that face the need for classification schemes (Lorr, 1983; Mezzich & Solomon, 1980).
35 Recommendations
10th Mar, 2015
Saleh Ali Ali
Middlesex University, UK
I would refer you to an intereting article published by D. HAROLD DOTY  and  WILLIAM H. GLICK titled " TYPOLOGIES AS A UNIQUE FORM OF THEORY BUILDING: TOWARD IMPROVED UNDERSTANDING AND MODELIN". The authors stated:
"sets of ideal types. Unlike classification systems, typologies do not provide decision rules for classifying organi- zations. Instead, typologies identify multiple ideal types, each of which represents a unique combination of the organizational attributes that are believed to determine the relevant outcome(s). For example, Mintzberg (1979, 1983) identified five types of organizational structures that are hy- pothesized to result in maximal organizational effectiveness, and Porter (1980, 1985) identified three ideal-type strategies that are hypothesized to maximize competitive advantage"
I would recommend you to read the article though.
4 Recommendations
26th Jul, 2015
Dries Vandorpe
Taxonomies and Typologies are both classification structures. The difference lies in the way in which each is developed: empirically (taxonomy) vs. conceptually (typology).
18 Recommendations
26th Jul, 2015
Mohamed Benmerikhi Ph.D
EDHEC Business School Lille
Thanks Dries for a very concise and logical answer.
2 Recommendations
Deleted profile
Interesting.
7th Jul, 2018
Samuel Okanlawon
University of Ibadan
The above responses were helpful
7th Jul, 2018
Ljubomir Jacić
Technical College Požarevac
Taxonomy and typology: are they really synonymous?
"Typology and taxonomy constructions are increasingly used as a method of analysis in health services and public health research. Although taxonomy and typology have different definitions in the dictionary, these terms are often used synonymously. The objective of this paper is to propose a theoretical framework derived from organizational theory in which the concepts of taxonomy and typology are clearly defined. The configurational approach emerged in the 1980s. It is designed to analyse the elements constituting an entity under study as a whole and not in isolation. In this approach, conceptually developed configurations are defined as typologies, while empirically derived configurations are defined as taxonomies. Based on this theoretical framework, taxonomies are used much more often than typologies in the scientific literature in the field of public health. Taxonomies can process large sets of multidimensional variables by generating relatively homogeneous groups that take into account interactions between variables. Taxonomies are usually built from classification methods or factor analyses combined with a classification. In conclusion, this paper proposes a theoretical framework to differentiate typologies from taxonomies to provide public health stakeholders with a common language in relation to classifications. This article provides the basis for discussion of theoretical frameworks underlying the definition of these concepts..."
17th Mar, 2019
Permagnus Lindborg
City University of Hong Kong
Here's the simplest distinction I know: Typology is top-down, while taxonomy is bottom-up.
2 Recommendations
2nd Oct, 2019
Guillaume Descoteaux-Isabelle
University of Québec in Chicoutimi
In computer science, their usage context can help understand what’s the difference. In a web site where you post let’s say: article, quotes, references ; those are “type” or “Data type” which have a defined Schema such as title and content Fields you fill when creating a new element.
when creating elements using those type of element, you will choose a Taxonomy (or many) to classify them Such as Tags or Categories.
Conclusion: one is the form structuring the content (typology), the other (taxonomy) groups the contents created with those container.
Typology defines the class of elements you want, taxonomy groups instances of them.
hope that helps
1 Recommendation
4th Jul, 2020
Maksim Godovykh
University of Central Florida
Typology vs taxonomy
5 Recommendations

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