Typology versus taxonomy

From “Typologies, taxonomies, and the benefits of policy classification” by Kevin B. Smith (Policy Studies Journal, Sep 2002):

There are two basic approaches to classification. The first is typology, which conceptually separates a given set of items multidimensionally… The key characteristic of a typology is that its dimensions represent concepts rather than empirical cases. The dimensions are based on the notion of an ideal type, a mental construct that deliberately accentuates certain characteristics and not necessarily something that is found in empirical reality (Weber, 1949). As such, typologies create useful heuristics and provide a systematic basis for comparison. Their central drawbacks are categories that are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive, are often based on arbitrary or ad hoc criteria, are descriptive rather than explanatory or predictive, and are frequently subject to the problem of reification (Bailey, 1994).

A second approach to classification is taxonomy. Taxonomies differ from typologies in that they classify items on the basis of empirically observable and measurable characteristics (Bailey, 1994, p. 6). Although associated more with the biological than the social sciences (Sokal & Sneath, 1964), taxonomic methods–essentially a family of methods generically referred to as cluster analysis–are usefully employed in numerous disciplines that face the need for classification schemes (Lorr, 1983; Mezzich & Solomon, 1980).

The article then goes on to explain the difficulty of applying the more strict taxonomic classifications to, in this case, policy:

…the empirical qualities of many policies are not immediately apparent. Scholars such as Steinberger (1980), T. A. Smith (1982), and, especially, Schneider and Ingram (1997) make a persuasive case that the very concept of a policy category is a social construction, something rooted in individual perceptions. What distinguishes a redistributive from a regulatory policy is an individual judgment, not an observable, policy-specific equivalent to height or length. This argument is at the heart of critiques of Lowi’s work, and it creates obvious difficulties in making the shift from a typology to a taxonomy.

I also like this lecture outline from a University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign entitled “ What Isn’t in a Name?: Terminological Misapprehensions Between 20th-Century Linguistics” that explains why the terms “taxonomy” and “typology” are not unbiasedly embraced:

II. CASE-STUDY 1: TYPOLOGY vs. TAXONOMY — positively- vs. negatively- valued by linguists; negatively- vs. positively-valued by biologists

  1. Typology as a laudable goal in linguistics:

a. From the Research Centre for Linguistic Typology (RCLT, La Trobe University) mission statement: “putting forward inductive generalisations about human language”.

b. From Association for Linguistic Typology mission statement: “the scientific study of … cross-linguistic diversity and the patterns underlying it”.

c. Existence of societies like the Association for Linguistic Typology, journals like Linguistic Typology or Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung, and research centers devoted to typology (RCLT, some of the Max Planck institutes (e.g., at Nijmegen and at Leipzig), etc.)

  1. Typology as a tainted term (and concept) in modern biology.

a. In most 20th- (and 21st-) century biology, typology invokes the typological species-concept, an essentialist notion that, along with many other scholars, Mayr (1982) holds responsible for delaying the proposal, defence, and acceptance of legitimate evolutionary ideas prior to Darwin’s 1859 Origin of Species.

b. Mayr 1982:256: In “the essentialist species-concept, … each species is characterized by its unchanging essense (eidos) and separated from all other species by a sharp discontinuity. Essentialism assumes that the diversity of inaminate as well as of organic nature is the reflection of a limited number of unchanging universals (…[cf.] Hull 1975). This concept ultimately goes back to Plato’s concept of the eidos, and this is what later authors had in mind when they spoke of the essence, or ‘nature’, of some object or organism. All those objects [that] belong to the same species … share the same essence”.

c. The link from essence to type is made as follows; cf. Mayr 1982: 256: “The presence of the same essence is inferred on the basis of similarity. Species, thus, were [once] simply defined as groups of similar individuals that are different from individals belonging to other species. Species, thus conceived, represent different ‘types’ of organisms. Individuals… do not stand in any special relation to each other; they are merely expressions of the same eidos. Variation is the result of imperfect manifestations of the eidos”.

  1. Taxonomy/taxonomic as a frequent term of reprobation in linguistics.

a. Recall Chomsky’s 1962, 1964 attacks on Post-Bloomfieldian American structuralist phonemics as involving, not (usually) the classical or autonomous phonemic level, but the taxonomic phonemic level. Here, the intended criticism is rather explicit.

b. Only implicit, though, are criticisms like those that we both heard from our own (ca. 1975) linguistics-professors, exhorting us not to act like Post-Bloomfieldian American structuralists; e.g.: “Make generalizations going beyond the original set of facts that you were given; don’t just rearrange the data!” — recall that Greek taxo-nom-ía originally involved, literally speaking, the ‘arrangement-law…’, or ‘law of arrangement…‘….

  1. Yet taxonomy has long been an extremely positive term in modern biology (and the one positively evaluated use of type in biology involves type specimens, which are employed taxonomically!).

a. Taxonomy is often employed synonymously (e.g., by Mayr) with systematics (and/or classification): “The terms systematics and taxonomy are considered by me as approximately synonymous…[; i]n America…[,] the term taxonomy seems to be preferred…[; i]n the rest of the world…[,] the term systematics seems to be more widely used” (Mayr 1942/1982: 6n.1).

b. And, as for the importance of systematics: “It is the basic task of the systematist to break up the almost unlimited and confusing diversity of individuals in nature into easily recognizable groups, to work out the significant characters of these units, and to find constant differences between similar ones. Furthermore, [(s)]he must provide these units with ‘scientific’ names which will facilitate their subsequent recognition by workers throughout the world…. Even this ‘lowest’ task of the systematist is of tremendous scientific importance. The entire geological chronology hinges on the correct identification of the fossil key species. No scientific ecological survey should be carried out without the most painstaking identification of all the species of ecological significance. Even the experimental biologist has learned to appreciate the necessity for sound, solid identification work” (Mayr 1942/1982: 9).

Fierce editing

Peter Elbow on the editorial act, from Writing without teachers (1973):

The essence of editing is easy come easy go. Unless you can really say to yourself, “What the hell. There’s plenty more where that came from, let’s throw it away,” you can’t really edit. You have to be a big spender. Not tightass.


You can’t be a good, ruthless editor unless you are a messy, rich producer. But you can’t be really fecund as a producer unless you know you’ll be able to go at it with a ruthless knife.


Editing must be cut-throat. You must wade in with teeth gritted. Cut away flesh and leave only bone. Learn to say things with a relationship instead of words. If you have to make introductions or transitions, you have things in the wrong order. If they were in the right order they wouldn’t need introductions or transitions. Force yourself to leave out all subsidiaries and then, by brute force, you will have to rearrange the essentials into their proper order.

Every word omitted keeps another reader with you. Every word retained saps strength from the others. Think of throwing away not as negative—not as crumpling up sheets of paper in helplessness and rage—but as a positive, creative, generative act. Learn to play the role of the sculptor pulling off layers of stone with his chisel to reveal the figure beneath. Leaving things out makes the backbone or structure show better.

Try to feel the act of strength in the act of cutting: as you draw the pencil through the line or paragraph or whole page, it is a clenching of teeth to make a point stick out more, hit home harder. Conversely, try to feel that when you write in a mush, foggy, wordy way, you must be trying to cover something up: message-emasculation or self-emasculation. You must be afraid of your strength. Taking away words lets a loud voice stick out. Does it scare you? More words will cover it up with static. It is no accident that timid people are often wordy. Saying nothing takes guts. If you want to say nothing and not be noticed, you have to be wordy.

Typology of Social Giving Transactions

  • Giving: a gift. “Please take this dollar. Have a nice day.”
  • Mercy: a gift to someone of lower social class. “Please take this dollar. But don’t buy beer with it.”
  • Charity: a gift to someone of similar social class. “Here is 50 dollars for your cause. Have you tried the shrimp?”
  • Donation: an exchange with the expectation of tax deductability. “Here is 50 dollars. Can I please have a receipt?”
  • Philanthropy: a gift of social magnificence. “Here is 1,000 dollars. Do you have my name spelled correctly for the placque?”

Note: These types do loosely overlap; charitable donations probably make up the majority of transactions.

Management Theories and Interventions

  • Performance management

  • Reward policies

  • Values translated into behaviours

  • Management competencies

  • Skills training

  • Management style

  • Performance coaching

  • 360 degree feedback

  • Management by objectives

  • Business planning and performance frameworks

  • Results based coaching

  • Beliefs, attitudes and cultural interventions

  • Visioning

** Psychodynamic**
  • Understanding change dynamics

  • Counselling people through change

  • Surfacing hidden issues

  • Addressing emotions

  • Treating employees and managers as adults

  • Living the values

  • Developing the learning organization

  • Addressing the hierarchy of needs

  • Addressing emotions

  • Fostering communication and consultation

From Making Sense of Change Management by Esther Cameron and Mike Green.

iPhone apps allow giving, just not charity

Annie Lynsen of Smallact on the “Apple hates (nonprofit) innovation” kerfuffle:

This past week, it was revealed that Apple would no longer allow charities to take donations through iPhone apps. Their rationale is that they can’t verify the donations are actually going to the charity they claim to be going to, and while that seems logical on the face of things, it presents a major roadblock for nonprofits seeking to build their donor bases. So if your app’s primary purpose is to solicit donations, you may want to rethink your strategy, and consider creating something that encourages volunteering, activism, or awareness-building instead.

In that last sentence, you can replace “app” with nearly any other activity and it still is good advice.

From my reading of things, Apple allows you to solicit giving (“Give the maker of this app 5 dollars”), it just doesn’t allow you to solicit charity (“Give the maker of this app 5 tax-deductible dollars so that they can give it to a nonprofit who will give it to the poor minus administrative overhead.”). I don’t particularly blame Apple, since verifying 501(c)3s is a pain… or at least PayPal seems to think so since they make me fax our IRS determination letter about every 6 months.

Update (12/3/2010): Looks like Apple is being more of a jerk than I originally thought.

Zen and Postmodern Art

From Zen and the Art of Postmodern Philosophy by Carl Olsen (I added paragraph breaks):

Within the context of postmodern art, Mark C. Taylor identifies, for instance, two processes at work: disfiguring and cleaving. These two operations are identified by Taylor in his attempt to grasp the chora, a nonexistent that stands behind being and becoming, makes possible all existences, and forms the essential space where both form and copy are inscribed.

The operation of disfiguring is connected to activities like marring, destroying, deforming and defacing in a process of negation or deprivation that also includes the negation of the notions of calculating, considering, and comprehending. By enacting denegation in the realm of form, the process of disfiguring interweaves revelation and concealment and presences and absence which allows for “both a re-presentation and a de-presentation.” If the artist removes, deforms, or defaces a figure and destroys its beauty, he/she leaves a trace of something that is other, which is itself neither being nor nonbeing, present or absent, immanent nor transcendent.

Associated with the notion of disfiguring is that of cleaving, which suggests both dividing and joining as well as separating and uniting. Cleaving is an operation that allows opposites to emerge and remain suspended in a process that is unthinkable and beyond the distinction of identity and difference.

The dual processes of disfiguring and cleaving are indicative that there can be nothing original from the postmodern perspective because such operations render everything secondary due to the tendency of the postmodern artist to disjoin, fragment, distort, and partially destroy a work of art in order to figure what cannot be figured.

In comparison:

In contrast to a postmodern deconstruction of drawing or consideration of the nature of art in the postmodern era, Dōgen quotes a saying by the Ch’an Master Hsing-yen (Japanese: Kyōgen Shikan): “A painting of a rice cake cannot satisfy hunger.” Many different kinds of people have diligently studied this saying without arriving at an useful understanding of its meaning. Like a similar saying, it is a mere clever expression and possesses no viable relationship to our real experience. To this puzzling statement, Dōgen offers his own interpretation: “The painting of a rice cake can be said to be everything: [Buddhas, sentient beings, illusion, enlightenment]. A rice cake, made from glutinous rice, represents both transitory and unchanging life. The painting of a rice cake actually symbolizes detachment, and we should not think about coming or going, permanence or impermanence when we look at it.” Dōgen offers an nondual interpretation of the saying; he denies the common view that a painting is unreal while the rice cake is real. The painting of the rice cake is not different from the various forms of existence. In other words, an actual rice cake is not different from a painting of a rice cake. Dōgen warns: “Do not try to find a real rice cake outside of the painting, if you do not know what the painting signifies.” From Dogan’s perspective, the painting may or may not appear in its true form: “The true meaning of a painting of a rice cake transcends the distinction of past and present, or birth and destruction.”

Dōgen further develops his interpretation of the painting of the rice cake by discussing unsatisfied hunger, which symbolizes the illusion of sentient beings for Dōgen. Hunger is used as a metaphor and/or symbol by Dōgen to illustrate the condition of illusion. By becoming detached from the opposites of enlightenment and illusion, a person loses his/her hunger. Dōgen indicates the nondualism of his position in the following way: “In reality there is no hunger of rice cake conflicting with each other, but when you think you are hungry the entire world becomes hungry; conversely, if there is a real rice cake it exists everywhere!” Prom this viewpoint, since an eatable rice cake and a pictorial representation of a consumable rice cake are both empty, either one can satisfy a person’s hunger, and are examples of ultimate reality in diverse forms. Moreover, an insightful observer of a painting can see, for instance, both movement and inertia, the way of practice, truth of the Buddha’s teaching and of the painting itself, the entire universe is manifested in the painting, and one can find one’s true self in the painting. Therefore, viewing a painting possesses the potential to lead one to an awakening, which functions to actualize the painting.” Thus a painting, from Dōgen’s perspective, can satisfy one’s hunger.

In other words, by intuiting mediation one can transcend it. But in conclusion:

In comparison to Taylor’s notions of disfiguring and cleaving and his emphasis on the surface of a work of art, Dōgen grasps a depth and mysteriousness (yūgen) to a work of art, whereas Taylor seems content with initiating a nonstop dialectic that gives birth to a double negation, a negation of negation. Dōgen and Taylor agree that we exist in a world of flux, although Taylor disagrees with Dōgen that we can catch a glimpse of the eternal in the world of flux. Rather than disfiguring or cleaving a work of art, Dōgen lets it be itself and does not seek to mark or spoil it in any way.

Goodbye Producers' Forum

Goodbye Producers Forum

I launched ProducersForum.org 4 years ago. At the time there was a need for a “Yahoo Groups”-functionality that offered:

  • RSS Feeds

  • Wikis

  • Sub-lists for working groups that would still be accessible/cross-searchable

It seems rather quaint now, but there was a need for this for community media groups in 2006. Built using Drupal, it is the only website I know that followed Zack Rosen’s Magic Groups recipe to turn Drupal into a mailing-list manager that could create an arbitrary number of email lists, allow users to post via email or via the website, and archive beautifully-threaded conversations on the website. Built with Drupal 4.7, I learned quite a bit in optimizing user workflows and smoothing Drupal’s poorly executed content creation interface.


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