Epistemic Influence on Formal Gender Classification - New Trends in eHumanities

Melodie Fox, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee


April 3, 2014

Using Discourse Analysis to Detect Epistemic Influence on Formal Gender Classification

The classification of human groups leads to uncomfortable questions of the epistemic nature of identity, which may or may not be supported by the notion of biological membership in groups. Yet, increasing recognition of gender variation and nonconforming individuals have caused a “category crisis,” (Garber 1991) as they confront and confound a deep-seeded binary and fundamental division of humans both socially and biologically. Gender and sex are formally classified for myriad purposes, including marriage, identification, medical treatment, prison, and in some cases, jobs. However, formal classifications tend to marginalize people who do not identify with traditional understandings of sex and gender. The category crisis is also an epistemic crisis, as epistemology governs how much agency humans have in knowing or defining themselves as members of categories. How far can the conventional understandings of gender be pushed without subjection?

Foucault (1977) argues that power occurs in micro-locations—such as classifications—rather than in overarching power structures. These apparatuses hold “the power to constitute domains of objects” rather than just oppress (Foucault 1981, 73). The Dewey Decimal Classification, the most widely used bibliographic classification in the world, has undergone four major revisions of its gender categories and those changes are used a case study to examine how bibliographic  conceptualizations of gender have been constructed in the manner that Foucault suggests, through the discursive “metanarrative” present at the time of the classification’s conception and revision, and the consequent epistemic outlook present.


Doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Visitor eHumanities Group from 27 March  – 4 April 2014

Melodie J. Fox is a doctoral candidate the School of Information Studies, the iSchool at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Melodie holds a master’s degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a master’s of library and information science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she is also near completion of her Ph.D. in information studies, with a minor in gender studies.

Her research interests include the social consequences of knowledge organization, epistemology, ethics, and concept theory, and specifically these areas as they relate to gender.  In her dissertation, “Gender as an ‘Interplay of Rules’: Detecting Epistemic Stances of Four Editions of the Dewey Decimal Classification Using Foucauldian Genealogical Discourse Analysis,” Melodie examine how gender categories have discursively destabilized over time and the resulting epistemic shift behind the classifications of gender in the DDC, including the impact of digital media on the most recent revision of DDC. Ultimately the goal is not to only show historical, discursive construction of the concepts, but rather the epistemic influences on classification, and the concomitant consequences to human groups. Additionally, she has written about gendered linguistics and social tagging on LibraryThing and the application of a Derridean ethical framework to social tagging. She is also a project consultant for the Woman’s Building Library database, a re-created database of the women’s library at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, a collection partially scattered and partially destroyed.

During her visit to the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in Amsterdam she plans to consult with the e-Humanities group on finding textual analysis tools appropriate for discourse analysis.