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Abstract

This paper addresses issues related to knowledge organization (KO) in the context of postmodernity from the theory of classification perspective. The methodology is a bibliographic analysis of the representation of these issues, and in relation to modernity, in the Brazilian and international literature. It was possible to verify that: a) while in the modern context there is the idea that classification can be a neutral and objective mirror of the universe of knowledge, the postmodern theory rejects such hypothesis moving its focus on the social praxis and the community language; b) while the modern classification aimed to represent the universe of knowledge, the postmodern classification aims to provide a pragmatic tool for specific domains; and, c) if classification in modernity focused on KO due to the physicality of documents, with the advent of new technologies and a new space of production of digital information, studies related to classification seem to be displaced. We identify a trend in the area where studies on indexing can take a very important part in this context.
Knowl. Org. 43(2016)No.2
D. Abraão Pando and C. Cândido de Almeida. Knowledge Organization in the Context of Postmodernity ...
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Knowledge Organization in the Context of Postmodernity
from the Theory of Classification Perspective
Daniel Abraão Pando* and Carlos Cândido de Almeida**
* São Paulo State University—UNESP, Graduate School of Information Science,
Av. Hygino Muzzi Filho 737, São Paulo, Marília, Brazil 17525-900,
*<danielabraaopando@gmail.com>, **<carlosalmeida@marilia.unesp.br>
Daniel Abraão Pando is a doctoral student at the Graduate School of Information Science, São Paulo State
University (UNESP), Marília, Brazil. He received his bachelor’s degree in library science and a master’s in in-
formation science from São Paulo State University (UNESP), Marília, Brazil. He is a member of the Theoreti-
cal Foundations of Information research group at UNESP.
Carlos Cândido de Almeida is an assistant professor at the Department of Information Science, São Paulo
State University (UNESP), Marília, Brazil where he also is member of the Theoretical Foundations of Infor-
mation research group. He received an Msc in Information Science from Santa Catarina Federal University,
Brazil and his bachelor’s degree in library science from the University of Londrina, Brazil. His research inter-
ests include epistemology of information science, semiotics, and theory of knowledge organization.
Pando, Daniel Abraão and Carlos Cândido de Almeida. 2016. “Knowledge Organization in the Context of
Postmodernity from the Theory of Classification Perspective.” Knowledge Organization 43, no. 2: 113-117. 16 ref-
erences.
Abstract: This paper addresses issues related to knowledge organization (KO) in the context of postmodernity
from the theory of classification perspective. The methodology is a bibliographic analysis of the representation
of these issues, and in relation to modernity, in the Brazilian and international literature. It was possible to ver-
ify that: a) while in the modern context there is the idea that classification can be a neutral and objective mirror
of the universe of knowledge, the postmodern theory rejects such hypothesis moving its focus on the social
praxis and the community language; b) while the modern classification aimed to represent the universe of
knowledge, the postmodern classification aims to provide a pragmatic tool for specific domains; and, c) if clas-
sification in modernity focused on KO due to the physicality of documents, with the advent of new technolo-
gies and a new space of production of digital information, studies related to classification seem to be dis-
placed. We identify a trend in the area where studies on indexing can take a very important part in this context.
Received: 9 December 2015; Revised 15 December 2015; Accepted 19 December 2015
Keywords: knowledge organization, classification, postmodernity, modernity, contexts
1.0 Introduction
Changes in society, such as the new social, political, and
economic conceptions that humanity lives with, directly
affect the conceptions and development of science. One
of these changes concerns the discussion addressed by
postmodernity regarding the problems of information
science (IS) and, more specifically, in knowledge organi-
zation (KO). According to Smit, Tálamo and Kobashi
(2004), the transition from modernity to postmodernity
was so quick and intense that several domains did not
take the necessary reflection on the very path of its con-
stitution.
It is not an easy task to understand what postmoder-
nity is. Many authors tried to define it, but there is not a
consensus. Harvey (1994) and Santos (2000, 2003), for
example, agreed to consider postmodernity more as an
instance of reflections or a period of self-analysis than a
new historical period. Postmodernity would be more in-
clusive of socio-cultural problems; in fact, it emerges in a
discursive environment involving social actors linked to
gender and ethnic movements (movements for civil
rights, for gender equality, etc.). It is also worth noting the
emergence of a linguistic movement known as political
correctness that demands human relations in common
language human relations and avoids the reification of
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prejudices towards minorities. Contrary to modernity in
which history and human relations would not be very
important, as projects, planning and sudden changes
seem inevitable, postmodernity presents itself as a turn-
ing point and becomes a space of dialogue and question-
ing of the situation that modernity left behind.
Problems questioned by postmodernity make an im-
pact on the ways of producing knowledge and proposing
practical solutions in various areas, including, above all,
knowledge organization. As Alexiev and Marksbury
(2010, 364) pointed out, “the epistemological basis of any
theory of KO is an accepted postulate. In other words,
how knowledge is organized and represented depends
largely on the understanding of how knowledge is gener-
ated and realized.” According to Rendon Rojas and Her-
rera Delgado (2010), one of the aspects in which post-
modernity addresses the problem of knowledge organi-
zation is in the introduction of relativism, subjectivism
and certain “disorder” in the organization (use of free
language, fuzzy logic) as an influence of an anti-modern
postmodernity.
In this paper, we aim to reflect on knowledge organi-
zation in the context of postmodernity. For this, we con-
ducted a literature review to survey how this aspect is dis-
cussed in the literature, holding the hypothesis that classi-
fication is very sensitive to the postmodern questioning.
2.0 Modernity and postmodernity
Modernity, as a historical moment, presents the following
features: antitradition, the overthrow of conventions,
customs, and beliefs, the opposition of universalism to
particularism, or entering the age of reason. The term
“modernity” was used in a broad meaning to characterize
all the intellectual, social, political, cultural, and religious
changes that were happening in the new direction that
the world was taking. According to Pereira (2014), some
categories about what the world “was” are affirmed and
also support the structuring of the way knowledge is
produced in this context. These categories, which accord-
ing to Pereira can be called fundamental, go over the cen-
turies to establish the belief that there is one and only
one way to construct true knowledge.
Some consequences of this worldview are directly
connected to knowledge organization, as it is done as a
dichotomy, and one possibility excludes the other. Thus,
it emphasizes the dualistic thinking in antinomies: mind
and body; reason and emotion; physical explanations and
cultural explanations. When one aspect predominates the
other one would be excluded.
Areas of knowledge are separated so that each entity
of knowledge is produced in its specialty. Science builds
on the concept of uniform order as the dominant orga-
nizing principle in reality. This led to the adoption of
some postulates (Pereira 2014) such as: change is uniform
and linear; the universe is stable and mechanical; reality is
simple and quantifiable; progress is linear. These ques-
tions guide the development of classification systems and
play a key role in issues related to KO (Monteiro and Gi-
raldes 2008), especially considering that they, at first, have
a greater focus on storage, that is, on keeping informa-
tion (focus on media), and not on its circulation.
Postmodernity, according to Monteiro and Abreu
(2009), indicates a temporal state that is posterior to
modernity resulting in changes in various contexts: social,
thought, and in the area of information. However, we
prefer to think of postmodernity as a period of reflection
of modern conditions that shaped our society and our
knowledge organization systems, since we do not deviate
completely from modern structures of conceiving reality,
the communities, and knowledge.
Mai (1999), and Hjørland and Nicolaisen (2011) sug-
gested that, although diversified and eclectic, postmod-
ernism can be recognized for two main assumptions
(Hjørland and Nicolaisen, 2011):
First, the assumption that there is no common de-
nominator—in “nature” or “truth” or “God” or
“the future”—that guarantees either the One-ness
of the world or the possibility of neutral or objec-
tive thought. Second, the assumption that all hu-
man systems operate like language, being self-
reflexive rather than referential systems—systems
of differential function which are powerful but fi-
nite, and which construct and maintain meaning
and value.
Thus, more than a philosophical movement, postmod-
ernism would be a sociocultural paradigm based on new
assumptions for life and human society (Gonçalves
2008), resulting in a departure from the “modern” in the
sense that the postmodern philosophy will claim a mature
position against the positivist model, characteristic of the
so-called “modernity.” While postmodernity refers to the
period of reflection, or even historical phase, in which
this occurs, postmodernism would be the set of ideas
that give ideological, aesthetic, cultural, and political con-
tent to postmodernity.
According to postmodern thought, ways of knowing
and thinking knowledge can no longer follow a mechanis-
tic and deterministic logic. The repercussions of the ways
of thinking and feeling, living, and acting in the world af-
fect the philosophical conceptions of reality. Territorial
spaces without borders, common markets, transnational
currencies, scientific developments, and the advent of
new technologies are challenges to the human mind that
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cannot coexist with divided, hierarchical, and systema-
tized knowledge that, throughout modernity, guided the
development of classification systems and had a central
role in the studies on knowledge organization.
3.0 Knowledge organization in the context
of postmodernity
In order to analyze the insertion of knowledge organiza-
tion in the context of postmodernity, we tried to do so
considering that theory of classification is of central im-
portance in issues related to KO. According to Mai (1999),
and Alexiev and Marksbury (2010), traditional theories of
classification (Dewey, Richardson, Bliss, Ranganathan, etc.)
are based on the modern view of the world, which is sup-
posedly neutral and objective. In this sense, nature has al-
ways existed and has always been there, what scientists did
was just to discover and systematize its secrets. In this con-
text, according to these authors, language is simply a means
of communicating ideas. Provided that a world of
thoughts and ideas exists a priori, regardless of language
and communication, the classification task is reduced to
mapping and representation of the world of ideas. This
view assumes that the world can be described without
making any reference to social, cultural, or individual con-
texts (Alexiev and Marksbury 2010).
However, according to Dousa (2007, 6), “over the
course of the last decade, the theoretical literature on KO
has taken a ‘postmodernist turn’ that marks a profound
shift in attitudes towards the epistemological foundations
of KO.” Considering that a key modern assumption has
been that classifications are based on objective facts about
the world, and therefore represent a pre-existing order of
things, there exists a dominant perspective that best cap-
tures the universe and therefore a classification best repre-
sents, Dousa continues that, “there has been an increasing
awareness of the culturally and historically contingent na-
ture of classification as both process and product.”
On the other hand, Mai (1999, 552) argues that, “mod-
ern classificationists would argue that classification should
be a neutral and objective representation of an already
there universe of knowledge, the postmodern knowledge
organizer, on the other hand, would argue that the creation
of a knowledge organization is an active construction of a
reality and particular view of the world.”
Therefore, according to Alexiev and Marksbury (2010),
a field of knowledge can be organized according to various
methods based on the epistemological tradition of that
field. They also draw attention to the fact that it is also im-
portant to note the postmodernist interpretation of lan-
guage as knowledge organization, defined in terms of
words and their meanings. In this view, they argue that the
meanings of words are not related to their referents, but
are conformed at the moment of their use. Nevertheless, it
is fundamental to question the semantics of words and
propose a pragmatic analysis of the meaning. Knowledge
organization systems in the context of post-modernity
should project a semiotic analysis of the production of
meanings in a discursive community, even before suggest-
ing a possible arrangement of their knowledge. Thus, the
semantics of words cannot be studied separately from the
community in which they are used. As explained by
Alexiev and Marksbury (2010, 365), “On the whole, it can
be concluded that the post-modernist conception defines
KO as a social construction in which it is possible to make
a KOS (ontology, thesaurus, etc.) more transparent for the
users and more effective. Thus KO is interpreted as part
of the social and cultural context.”
In this sense, Dousa (2007) states that an important
consequence in this context is referred to the change
from monism to pluralism, pointing out that the proper
task of the KO practitioners is not the development of
universal systems, but rather the creation of classifica-
tions, and more specifically, the development of indexing
languages that capture the diverse perspectives about the
world according to the discourse of different communi-
ties, organizations, and individuals. Thus, knowledge or-
ganization would be interpreted as part of the social and
cultural context in which it no longer fits into a closed
and linear structure and the social aspects are left out. We
must revise our taxonomist stance that seeks fitting be-
ings into their respective biological class, and approximate
to the logic of the ethnographer that knows about the
functioning of communities and get integrated into them.
Mai (2004, 39), while analyzing the differences between
modern and postmodern theories of classification, notes
that, “While modern classification aims at representing
the universe of knowledge, postmodern classification
aims at providing a pragmatic tool for specific domains.”
While classification schemes provided the basis for
knowledge organization and retrieval in the context of
modernity, with the exponential advancement of science
and the development of information and communication
technologies (ICTs), there is a need, in the context of
postmodernity, to create new forms of organization. In
this sense, Monteiro and Giraldes (2008) argue that in-
dexing seems to be the most appropriate model in the
digital environment, because unlike classification, which
organizes knowledge by classes, divisions, sections, and
facets, it does not treat texts as external description and
content (at least not with the same rigor of cataloging
and classification) but rather aims to organize knowledge
through a semantic and thematic work operating within
the structure of language.
Knowl. Org. 43(2016)No.2
D. Abraão Pando and C. Cândido de Almeida. Knowledge Organization in the Context of Postmodernity ...
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KNOWLEDGE ORGANIZATION
MODERN POSTMODERN
IMAGE OF THE
KNOWLEDGE
Tree: hierarchical
structure
Rhizome:
interconnected
distribution
WAYS OF BEING Actual (reified) Virtual
LANGUAGE Analogic Digital
SEMIOTIC
PAR AD IGM
Verbalist
(logocentrism)
Sound, visual, and
verbal (semiotic
multiplicity)
MEDIUM Physical,
material,
palpable: paper
for book,
photographic
and
cinematographic
film, magnetic
tape for sound
Digital, virtuality:
convergence of
media for the same
medium of record,
dissemination and
access
PHYSICAL
REPRESENTATION
Data: descriptive
representation
of the works and
their media:
(cataloging)
Metadata: there is
no physical narrow
of the virtualized
works. Hypertext
(XML) is at the
same time language
and tag
SUBJECT
REPRESENTATION
Voc abu lar y
control in the
subject
representation by
classification and
indexing allows
the semantic
narrow: unique
sense or meaning
There is no
semantic narrow in
the practices of
social tagging and
in the multiple
syntaxes of the
mechanisms of
indexing and search
(multiplicity of
meanings)
ONTOLOGIES Human Human and
machinic
Table 1. Knowledge organization in the postmodern context.
Table 1 is a summary of knowledge organization in the
postmodern context developed by Monteiro and Abreu
(2009).
4.0 Conclusions
A summary of the ideas discussed by these authors,
points to the following consequences: the classical tradi-
tion of the theory of classification based on a modern
view of the world includes the idea that classifications
can be a neutral mirror and objective of a universe of
knowledge; in contrast, the postmodern theory of know-
ledge organization rejects this hypothesis and puts the fo-
cus on social praxis and community language; while mo-
dern classification seeks to represent the universe of
knowledge, postmodern classification seeks to provide a
pragmatic tool for specific areas; in modernity, classifica-
tion had a centrality in KO because of the physicality of
documents, with the advent of new technologies and new
space for the production of digital information, studies
on classification seem to suffer a displacement.
The postmodern critique suggests, ultimately, that the
ways of organizing knowledge might not be reflecting the
socio-cultural context, or even being as pragmatic as we
think with the structures of knowledge of modernity.
Such postmodern reflection applied to tknowledge or-
ganization suggests the need of an ethnographic design
instead of taxonomic logic.
Although it was not the object of our analysis, we
cannot ignore the importance of the advent of new
technologies in issues related to knowledge organization
in the context of postmodernity, since they directly inter-
fere in the way knowledge is produced in the digital envi-
ronment that also have consequences in the way in which
they are organized.
Ultimately, ethnically hybrid societies such as Brazil
(García Canclini 2001), with such disparate communities
including quilombolas groups, indigenous people, and im-
migrants, among others, with a significant number of na-
tive languages, can navigate between tradition and moder-
nity. These societies could only be recognized through a
postmodern approach to their knowledge and their lan-
guages. Perhaps the social role of knowledge organization
and its products are strengthened in this period more than
in others. They should be consistent with the reality of the
discursive communities and ethically committed to the rep-
resentation of knowledge and learning.
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This paper surveys classification research literature, discusses various classification theories, and shows that the focus has traditionally been on establishing a scientific foundation for classification research. This paper argues that a shift has taken place, and suggests that contemporary classification research focus on contextual information as the guide for the design and construction of classification schemes.
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