Bias in indexing languages: theoretical approaches on feminine issues Suellen Oliveira MILANI- São Paulo State University - UNESP (BRAZIL) José Augusto Chaves GUIMARÃES- São Paulo State University - UNESP (BRAZIL) Sponsors:
Research background • Main project: • Ethical questions in KOR (multicultural contexts) • Sub-projects: • Ethical values in KOR • Bias in KOR (feminine questions, gay questions, religious questions)
Research background • KR Bias in feminine questions • Part 1: Theoretical approaches • Part 2: Analysis of 4 Brazilian indexing languages (University of São Paulo Subject Headings; Brazilian Library of Congress Subject Headings; Brazilian Law Classification; Brazilian national Library Subject Headings)
Purpose To analyze how dialogical are the current theoretical approaches on bias in feminine issues in order to contribute for a preliminary systematization of them.
Contents 1. The non-neutral nature of knowledge representation (KR) 2. The three dimensions of KR 3. The question of bias in KR 4. Bias in KR: the universe of feminine studies 5. Conclusions
1. The non-neutral nature of knowledge representation (KR) • Knowledge representation is a constant (and changing) decision-making process; • it embodies a power: the power to name (Olson, 2002); • it is carried out by human beings who have their own idiossincratic contexts; • it mediates other idiossincratic contexts (the author and the users) • So, it must search for reliability in order to avoid favoring certain interests and values rather than others, specially in multicultural contexts.
1. The non-neutral nature of knowledge representation (KR) In other words... Methodologies should be developed aiming at not only avoiding bias but also at detecting it in knowledge representation, once the unavoidable subjective influence of the information professional makes it impossible to be a neutral process.
1. The non-neutral nature of knowledge representation (KR) • KR involves five dimensions of ethical commitment: • To the user; • To the organization (information system); • To the information itself; • To the infrmation profession; and • To the professional him/herself. • (Guimarães, 2000)
2. KR and its three dimensions • Processes • e.g. Subject analysis, vocabullary controlling, classifying • Tools • e.g. thesauri, lists of subject headings, classification schemes • Products(surrogates of knowledge) • e.g. indexes, subject entries, notations • Bias can occur in any of these 3 KR dimensions.
3. The question of bias in KR Bias can be conceived as “[…] a negatively loaded word, as something to be avoided or minimized” (Hjørland, 2008, p. 256) Bias can be observed in KR usually related to gender, sexuality, race, age, ability, ethnicity, language and religion matters, and act as limits to the representation of diversity and to effective library service for diverse populations (Olson, 2002, p. 7).
3. The question of bias in KR Bias in KR can act as real obstacles to: cultural warrant in SKOS (Beghtol, 2002, 2005) and, as a consequence to a transcultural ethics of meditaion(García Gutierrez, 2002).
3. The question of bias in KR • The polissemic nature of bias (sesgos): • Tendency • Prejudice • Misrepresentation • Proselitism • Lack of specificity • “Information detours”
3. The question of bias in KR Bias in KR, besides violating individual rights, also inhibits the users, pushing them aside, due to a lack of reliability and even to an identity problem towards the representation criteria. (Guimarães, 2006).
4. Bias in KR: the universe of feminine studies • In KR processes and tools (Olson, 2002, 2006, 2007) • In UDC (Santos, Madina, Serra, 1999; Morán Suárez & Rodriguéz Bravo, 2001); • In lists of subject headings and in thesauri (López-Huertas, Torres & Barité, 2004 ; Rodríguez Bravo, 2007).
4. Bias in KR: the universe of feminine studies Theoretical background The inclusion of minority groups in accordance to its condition, be it ethnical, linguistic, political, religious, national, ideological, social or economic condition, emphasizes the need of adequacy (place, society, user and moment), of up-to-dating and of defining the elaboration criteria (Caro Castro & San Segundo Manuel, 1999). It is necessary to think of an ideal model of knowledge organization for each domain (López-Huertas, Torres, Barité, 2004), once different domains in different cultures have specific informational needs and require different kinds of organization and different ways to get information (Beghtol, 2002).
4. Bias in KR: the universe of feminine studies Theoretical background The limits of the system (and consequently its inclusions and exclusions) are defined by the selection of concepts to be named and “the selection of terms of these concepts often introduces blatant biasses or, more commonly, subtle, insidious marginalizations.” (Olson, 2002) The degree of terminological precision can be a reliable indicator of the level of development of this theme in different cultures. (López-Huertas & Torres Ramírez, 2005)
4. Bias in KR: the universe of feminine studies Mapping the problems Gender subject representation is mostly related to sexuality (specially to homosexuality), family life (including maternity) and personal relations. Women treated as exceptions to masculine norms (Olson, 2002) Women issues treated isolated, separated from knowledge as a whole (Olson, 2002) Women issues omitted. (Olson, 2002) General terms in the masculine form (as well as masculine terms in the plural form to refer to both men and women) (López-Huertas & Torres Ramírez, 2005) Woman as the subject of anticonception (López-Huertas & Torres Ramírez, 2005) Nominals as a tendency to create feminine descriptors and to omit their correspondent masculine descriptors. (López-Huertas & Torres Ramírez, 2005) Rare presence of women in traditional indexing languages, mainly due to the use of masculine as universals (Rodríguez Bravo, 2007) Rare presence of women in traditional indexing languages due to the fact that the “knowledge representation discourse have maintained feminine sexist stereotypes, presenting an anacronic image of women.” (Rodríguez Bravo, 2007)
4. Bias in indexing languages in the universe of feminine studies: some contributions for a preliminary checklist In what other subject contexts than sexuality, family life and personal relations are feminine issues considered? Are femine issues are considered in equal basis or as exceptions to masculine ones? Is there a well-ballanced approach of both feminine and masculine forms for the different subjects? Are there feminine issues omitted? Are masculine forms used as universals? If it happens, it is importante to differentiate linguistic and idiossincratic reasons. Are feminine issues treated isolated, separated from knowledge as a whole? Is there a tendency to create feminine descriptors and to omit their correspondent masculine descriptors? Are there evidences that feminine sexist stereotypes, presenting an anacronic image of womenhave been maintained?
Conclusions On the process of creating a indexing language to base studies on women, one has to take into account how to represent the masculine. There is a tendency to avoid descriptors which use the word woman/women as the nuclear element. Once an information system reveals a type of articulation of a certain domain, special attention should be given to resources such as authorized/non-authorized descriptors/subject headings (USE, UF, see), related terms (RT, see also) and scope notes (SN), because they transcend the technical dimension and play an important social role. (Milani et al., 2009)
Conclusions • Rodriguez Bravo (2007) presents some suggestions of actions that may minimize the problem: • insertion of feminine forms without hiding the masculine ones - to make efforts to eliminate sexist stereotypes and masculine terms as false general terms from indexing languages, searching for a balance between the presence of both feminine and masculine; • insertion of notes (like Scope Notes) which allow the use of the feminine form and/or the use of headings/sintagmatic descriptors to distinguish the masculine form the generic, when there is no other option; and • insertion of gender qualifiers along with the headings/descriptors, being “(W)” and “(M)”, when the subject does not represent humanity in general.
Conclusions Since KR, as an activity which aims at making information available to all and any kind of user, it must ensure that every user, without distinction, is able to recognize himself/herself represented in the system. If this does not occur, the system will have failed; the system will not have fulfilled the expectations of the user; it will have violated the user´s rights and moral values, pushing him/her aside. As a consequence, bestowing a naming to information is a quite complex representation knowledge activity since the act of subject labeling leads to creating an identity (Olson, 2002) Information professionals should consider- and be careful with -their effective “power to name” (Olson, 2002) when they decide what to represent and what to leave unnamed, because a broad and deep set of moral values (as well as problems derived from their negation) are effectively (and sometimes dangerously!) involved (Guimarães et al., 2008). In a society which intends to be politically correct and socially inclusive, attitudes towards stigmas should be modified, and indexing languages, taken as tools of knowledge representation, is a fertile field for it.
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