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Title: Classification work and the UK Freedom of Information Act 2000
Author: Gibbons, Amy Catherine
Awarding Body: Lancaster University
Current Institution: Lancaster University
Date of Award: 2012
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This thesis develops a new way of thinking about, and examining what is required to make classification do its work. Current studies of classification work define it as the process through which some 'thing' is attributed to, or made to be an instance of, a category. More specifically, classification work is the process of constructing socio-material mediators that will enact categories in such a way that a particular thing can become seen as (or taken as) being an instance of that category. Thus, these socio-material mediators are 'actors' (as defined in Social and Technology Studies (STS) and by Bowker and Star (1999) in particular). As such, these actors have the ability to 'authorize, allow, afford, encourage, permit, suggest, influence, block, render possible [and] forbid' (Latour, 2005: 72) and serve as both enactors and mediators of the associations in which they are embedded. This framing of classification work tends to treat actors (and categories) as pre-existing to the relationship in which they find themselves. It assumes that there is a structure through which categories will reveal themselves to provide a destination for things. In instances where the thing is considered residual to the existing structure, further classification work may be needed to prevent it being dumped in an 'other' category and to create new knowledge. This thesis draws on the work of Barad (2003) and argues that categories and things (which she terms 'relata') do not pre-exist their relations. For a thing to be engaged and tied to a category it has already been entangled in a series of associations. Studies of classification to date embody this understanding by researching how the context in which classifications take place shapes the work conducted. This deconstruction of social-material ties is the foundation of the social constructionist argument, which informs this thesis and its associated research methodology. In this perspective there is a need to open the 'black boxes' in order to reveal how these 'categories' and 'instances' are enacted in order to more fully understand how classifications come to matter and be legitimated. It is argued that in order to address this issue of ongoing enactment we need to understand how and through what classification is made to work in different settings. This is revealed through the examination of the 'thread' that is weaved (or more specifically, enacted) from its initial instance to its corresponding actor. Bowker and Star (1999; 2000) refer to these as 'filiations'. As such one might say that the core focus of this thesis is how filiations are made to work, in order to produce/enact classifications practices. The thesis examines the ways in which classifications are informed by institutional structure and practices at two public bodies through a series of case based vignettes. Specifically this comprised of the work entailed in classifying information, in these institutions, requested under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. These classification practices will be examined in order to explore the necessary conditions required for classification to do its work. In exploring the supposed (or rather enacted) links between entities and the categories in the legislation it is possible to show how a variety of socio-material practices are required to make classification work. Upon reflecting on the empirical material across both sites, this thesis concludes (in agreement with former studies) that the context or space of the classification work is indeed an important factor in legitimating decisions. What is additionally required is an understanding of the performative nature of the socio-material classification practices which enables the actors to enact their obligations under the legislation. Socio-material classification practices are therefore performatively embedded in the production of the filiations in order to fulfil the requirements of the legislation. The thesis shows that it is through the social-material production of filiators (as mediators) that classification (or the implementation of the law) is made to work.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available