Ethological classification: A model for ordering the commercial workplace that draws on collective practice.


  • Elisabeth Davenport Napier University Business School
  • Howard Rosenbaum SLIS Indiana University
  • Uta Priss SLIS Indiana University



We would like to present a novel classification approach to the Idea mart, and receive feedback from colleagues. In certain circumstances an approach to classification may be useful that is based on repertoires of recurring activities and their associated documentation ('genre repertoires'); we label this 'ethological classification' (Davenport and Rosenbaum 2000). The approach offers an alternative to the search for 'deep structure' that organizes knowledge in a working group: as genres embody the practical understanding of such groups, they offer a 'surface' representation of knowledge that may be sufficient for some organizational purposes: finding groups to share activities, for example. As autogenic forms, genres may be taken as valid representations of the practical knowledge of the communities in which they emerge. The 'ethological' approach may solve some ofthe problems associated with recent attempts to design 'ecological work-based classification' schemes (Pejtersen and Albrechtsen, 2000) where the search for 'invariant structures' and their validation can be extremely resource intensive. The 'ethological' approach, a form of bricolage, which draws on knowledge that is to hand, offers a thrifty alternative.