Toward a Taxonomy of Harm

Melissa Adler, Joseph T. Tennis


When we organize knowledge we act. The wholesomeness of our actions can be measured in the proportion of good or harm they do. How then do we identify and define potential harm in knowledge organization systems? A starting point for contributing to the greater good is to examine and interrogate existing knowledge organization practices that do harm, whether that harm is intentional or accidental, or an inherent and unavoidable evil. As part of the transition movement, the authors propose that we take inventory of the manifestations and implications of the production of suffering by knowledge organization systems through constructing a taxonomy of harm. The aim of our work is (1) to heighten awareness of the violence that classifications and naming practices carry, (2) to unearth some of the social conditions and motivations that contribute to and are reinforced by knowledge organization systems, and (3) to advocate for intentional and ethical knowledge organization practices to achieve a minimal level of harm.

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