From Atomic Elements to Fantastical Machines: The “Concept” in International Classification


  • Richard P. Smiraglia Institute for Knowledge Organization and Structure, Inc.



The concept—an idea, a notion—is accepted as the core entity in knowledge organization (KO). The founder of the science of KO, Ingetraut Dahlberg, defined a concept repeatedly over time. Concepts have been well-discussed in the literature of both KO and information and have even been described as elementary particles in a theory of knowledge interaction. But an interesting question is what did the concept mean to these original thinkers in the nascent KO a century or more ago? An earlier series of papers about the evolution of the concept in information science based on the discourse of the concept in American Documentation led irrevocably to the notion of the concept as an element that could be isolated for analysis alongside frequent references to fantastical machines. This short paper describes an ongoing research project to undertake the same level of discourse analysis in the foremost evolutionary journal of KO, International Classification. A simple narrative of the occurrence of the “concept” in IC over the course of its run shows evolving definitions but also reveals usage of the notion of the concept as core (or atomic) element.