Residual Categories: Silence, Absence and Being an Other


Date Thursday September 18th 2008
Time 4:00-5:00pm
Venue George E. Pake Auditorium

PARC Forum

Residual categories (for example, none of the above; not elsewhere categorized; not otherwise specified [NOS]; other) are ubiquitous in all working classification systems. Where and how they appear, and are used, changes historically and politically. Their presence also reflects the nature of technical descriptions of nature: something always escapes formal description. This has been noted by thinkers including Gödel, Wittgenstein, Gregory Bateson, and John Dewey. Design and technical concerns about how residual categories should be used in classification systems have had two main axes – statistical (especially distributional, how not to lump all the other categories in one place) and incidental (that is, the instance when an especially dangerous item, person, or event – even one – should be closely examined). This talk adds a third axis: the point of view of an individual or group classed as other, and the idea of a lived residual category. This talk will examine the analytic power of coming these three axes, and especially what it might mean for quality of life.


Susan Leigh Star is currently Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Santa Clara University. She has been a faculty member at the University of California, San Diego; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and guest faculty at several European universities. She is co-editor, with Martha Lampland, of a forthcoming book, Standards and their Stories (Cornell, Fall 2008) and author, with Geoffrey Bowker, of Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000. She is known for the development of the concept of boundary objects. She received her PhD in sociology of science from the University of California, San Francisco, California. She is immediate past president of the Society for the Social Study of Science (4S), and co-editor of Science, Technology and Human Values.

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