« Friends, acquaintances, and Facebook | Main | Categories and equivalences (redux) »

Nov 02, 2008



First let me start of by saying that I agree with Dave in everything he says regarding categories. The development of any area of investigation is characterised by the development of increasingly abstract representations. This abstraction is in the main part of simplification since to abstract we need to remove (what we see as) irrelevant information.

A little jump of intuition here; to really, truly understand any system one must move beyond the confines of the abstract categories we assign to things as a result of our culture, experience, or our cognitive processes. In short abandoning categories is probably a key step towards getting at true nature of the thing (whatever that may be).

Here is the big however; However, practically it will be enormously difficult get away from categories as a way of thinking. I see this as being for two reasons. First and foremost; 'language and communication' which are in themselves exercises in the use of categories. The words of a sentence are in and of themselves categories each of which fit within a predefined schema with huge cultural and individual meaning. So while one might attain the knowledge and expertise to be able to transcend categories in a particular field the communication of this transcendental understanding would be 'problematic' since communication of this information to another would require the application of categorisation.

Second, research shows that the development of abstract categories provides a short cut for cognition. Children who learn with simple objects are able to generalize according to shape similarity, better than those who learned with complex objects. Americans (I'm not picking on Americans, it's only because they've just had an election) often pick their candidate based on his party affiliations and pay little attention to the details of their position. To pay attention to each individual and their position would require immense effort and time. So in order to reduce their loading they align to the category; Democrat or Republican. Transcendence of categories therefore will require immense and concerted effort over time (that's why it too so long for Budda to attain enlightenment ;-).

To put it another way; the creation of categories is a product of human abstract learning; using simplified already abstracted instances to facilitate rapid understanding of a situation (which will in turn let you understand that that Tiger doesn't look happy and you should probably run).

So, given the above how can SNA tool help us transcend categories in an effective communicable way?

Dave Marsay

R: I agree that we have to lean heavily on categories for rapid understanding, particularly to cue more deliberative consideration. The same goes for tools like SNA. If we think that social networks evolve, for instance under the influence of social networking tools, or tools used by credit scorers or the police, then we have to accept that the usefulness of our categories and tools will be dependent on time and circumstance, so that they will have to be continually adapted to suit.

For both social networking and social network analysis tools, the key thing is that they provide cues and links into richer realities – as social networking tools already do. As social networks develop, it will be worth developing the tools to keep up.

Obama provides an example: he may be a democrat, but he may also transform the democratic party. So, considering the particulars, a few old style democrats may not have voted for him.

Mark Round

Ended up writing such a long comment, I've turned it into a post instead! [dated today]

The comments to this entry are closed.

Mark Round

  • {mark.round at itoiresearch.com}
  • A reformed cognitive scientist, now interested in understanding and influencing attitude and behaviour, especially using social and cultural anthropology, working as a consultant in the UK.


Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

    Network Books

    On Other Blogs


    Blog powered by Typepad
    Member since 12/2003