José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
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:
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
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)
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
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)
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
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.
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
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
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
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.
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
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.
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
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)
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
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.
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
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).
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
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).
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
3. The question of bias in KR
The polissemic nature of bias (sesgos):
•Tendency
•Prejudice
•Misrepresentation
•Proselitism
•Lack of specificity
•“Information detours”
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
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).
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
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
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
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 upto-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).
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
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)
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
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:
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
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 women have been maintained?
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
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)
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
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.
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
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.
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães. ISKO Rome, 2010
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