6.2. The What and Why of Categories

Categories are equivalence classes, sets or groups of things or abstract entities that we treat the same. This does not mean that every instance of a category is identical, only that from some perspective, or for some purpose, we are treating them as equivalent based on what they have in common. When we consider something as a member of a category, we are making choices about which of its properties or roles we are focusing on and which ones we are ignoring. We do this automatically and unconsciously most of the time, but we can also do it in an explicit and self-aware way.329[Cog]

[329][Cog] Cognitive science mostly focuses on the automatic and unconscious mechanisms for creating and using categories. This disciplinary perspective emphasizes the activation of category knowledge for the purpose of making inferences and “going beyond the information given,” to use Bruner’s classic phrase (Bruner 1957). In contrast, the discipline of organizing focuses on the explicit and self-aware mechanisms for creating and using categories because by definition, organizing systems serve intentional and often highly explicit purposes. Organizing systems facilitate inferences about the resources they contain, but the more constrained purposes for which resources are described and arranged makes inference a secondary goal.

Cognitive science is also highly focused on understanding and creating computational models of the mechanisms for creating and using categories. ...

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