ISR Distinguished Speaker

Susan Leigh Star

Professor, Department of Communication
“Residual Categories: A Challenge for Ethics, Information Systems, and Communication”
Friday, May 7, 2004 - 2:00pm to 3:30pm
Faculty Host: 

Email RSVP required to Steve Ponting at by Monday, May 3.

McDonnell Douglas Auditorium (building #311)

No cost to attend.


Click here for directions and parking information.


This talk looks at both the experience and the process of classification of chronic pain, a condition that often results in the use of a residual category, such as "other" or "not elsewhere categorized." The talk examines the changing science of chronic pain, and how that is being organized by doctors, researchers and patients. How is uncertainty affected by the changing status of residual categories as new science emerges? How does uncertainty weave together with infrastructure in the production of residual categories? How do changes in residual categories affect individual biographies? The talk is an example of the "human-infrastructure interface", and presents some theoretical and ethical challenges to designers of collaborative information systems.

About the Speaker: 

Susan Leigh Star ("Leigh") received her Ph.D. from the University of California, San Francisco, where she studied the sociology of medicine and science. Her first book, Regions of the Mind: The Quest for Scientific Certainty (Stanford) studied the creation and maintenance of scientific facts about the brain, triangulating basic and clinic research. She has written many scientific articles within the sociology of science and information science; the latter often in cooperation with computer scientists. She is known for developing the concept of "boundary object." She has studied museums, biologists, artificial intelligence researchers, nurses and the role of amateurs in field research. Lately, she is the co-author of Sorting things Out: Classification and Its Consequences (with Geoffrey Bowker), from MIT Press. This looks at how large-scale category systems are created, again returning to questions of triangulation of knowledge from different sources.