International Symposium on “The Politics of Classification” Hosted by UCLA IS on May 5

Experts from across the globe and across disciplines will examine political implications of ordering knowledge and activity within the information fields.

UCLA’s Department of Information Studies will host an international symposium on “The Politics of Classification,” in the GSE&IS Building at UCLA on Friday, May 5, 8:30 a.m.- 6 p.m. The daylong conference will explore the impact of classification systems upon scholarship, society, economics, and politics.

Johanna Drucker, UCLA’s Bernard and Martin Breslauer Professor of Bibliography, says that the symposium is comprised of an impressive array of speakers representing a diverse range of perspectives.

“This will be a terrific opportunity to engage the community in discussions that cut across all tracks and areas of Information Studies, with implications for the ways in which knowledge is managed in every area of contemporary life including politics, policy, biodiversity, cultural legacy materials, medicine, humanities, social sciences—the list could go on,” says Drucker.

Jens-Erik Mai, professor of information studies at the University of Copenhagen, will deliver the keynote address, followed by panel discussions and paper presentations by a cadre of experts including UCLA IS Chair Jonathan Furner and UCLA IS Professors Safiya U. Noble and Gregory Leazer. Also presenting will be Kay Mathiesen, University of Arizona; Melanie Feinberg, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Joseph Tennis, University of Washington; Melissa Adler, University of Kentucky; David Remsen, director of Marine Research Services at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts; Aaron Glass, Bard Graduate Center; and Geoffrey Bowker, UC Irvine. A closing reception at 5 p.m. will conclude the symposium.

“The distinguished profiles of these participants are a tribute to the work of our doctoral student, Robert Montoya, and to the kind of academic networks our students create as part of their graduate work,” notes Professor Drucker.

Montoya, who is co-organizing the symposium with Professor Drucker, wrote his dissertation on the international open source Catalogue of Life project and how its global species checklist and taxonomic hierarchy is transforming the scientific community’s methods of creating, maintaining, and sharing biodiversity databases. He says that the conference will provide students with rare insights into the many challenges to be met in the realm of classification.

“One of the broader issues here is how politics, classification, and ethics will intersect in how we teach [classification],” notes Montoya, who graduates this spring with his Ph.D. and will begin teaching as an assistant professor at the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University Bloomington this fall. “There are very few opportunities to have all of these people in the room to talk about what students need to learn and the pressing issues they need to explore in [both] master’s level and Ph.D. level work.”

Montoya underscores the timeliness of topics in “The Politics of Classification” symposium.

“We [mainly] think about how classifications are used in museums and libraries,” he notes. “This symposium will bring to the fore issues of policy and how that’s implemented on a governmental level and in a variety of disciplines.

“The most recent example extensively covered in the media is the whole debate about whether [the term] ‘illegal alien’ should be changed to ‘undocumented immigrant’ in the Library of Congress classification system. These have real world [implications] – how we classify people and things has real consequences in daily life. Some might say they’re just semantics, but these categories directly express a certain value system in our society.”

“The Politics of Classification” is sponsored by the Breslauer Professor Fund and UCLA’s Department of Information Studies; admission to this event is free and open to the public. Parking is available in Structure 3 on a pay-by-space basis.

For more information or to attend this event, contact Elizabeth Kalbers at or click here.