Lumping and splitting: Notes on social classification

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

140 Scopus citations


This paper examines the mental process of grouping "similar" things together in distinct clusters and separating "different" clusters from one another. The role language plays in providing us with seemingly homogeneous mental niches for lumping things together yet at the same time allowing us to carve seemingly discrete categories out of experiential continua directs the sociological study of classification to intersubjective, conventional mindscapes that are neither personal nor "logical." The paper identifies a nonmetric, topological mode of thinking that involves playing down intracluster while exaggerating intercluster mental distances and ends with some methodological observations of the need to approach classification from a comparative perspective as well as highlighting the role of spatial zoning, rites of separation, and Freudian slips in the study of the social construction of difference and similarity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)421-433
Number of pages13
JournalSociological Forum
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 1996

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Categories
  • Classification
  • Clusters
  • Cognitive sociology
  • Difference
  • Language
  • Similarity
  • Topological thinking

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Lumping and splitting: Notes on social classification'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this