Friday, November 13, 2009

The need to classify

We classify. Maybe because we want to master the world around us, by putting order into it. Maybe because our brains work with a tree-like structure, placing things into categories and drawing branch like relations between them. We classify, and in this process we buy into the order of things*: we accommodate things within a pre-determined system of beliefs and interests that underlies every classificatory order.

No classification is innocent.

- I'm going to a concert tonight. There's a famous piano-player from Canada playing.
- What's her name?
- Sarah Cheung.
- Oh, she's Asian then.
- She's quite famous in Canada.
- Yes, of Asian origins. Cheung does not sound ... well, how shall i put it, Canadian.
- It may not sound Western.
- Yeah, that's what I meant.

Canadian, Asian, Western... we need to put people in categories. It's not enough to say what a person does or where a person now lives. To properly place that person in our nicely fitting systems of categories, we need to find out "where is s/he coming from". As if, by ticking the little box of birth-place and/ or ethnic group, all of a sudden there's order. And we can breath out, relax and hear the rest of the conversation.

*The Order of Things is the title of one of Michel Foucault's books, dealing with the relation between power and knowledge.

No comments:

Add to Technorati Favorites