Sociological Forum

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 421–433 | Cite as

Lumping and splitting: Notes on social classification

  • Eviatar Zerubavel


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.

Key words

classification categories clusters language cognitive sociology topological thinking similarity difference 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eviatar Zerubavel
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyRutgers UniversityNew Brunswick

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