Journal of Bioeconomics

, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 221–238 | Cite as

The Economics and Bioeconomics of Folk and Scientific Classification

  • Michael T. GhiselinEmail author
  • Janet T. Landa


This paper is the product of a collaboration between a biologist (Ghiselin 1997) who works on the philosophy of classification and an economist (Landa 1981, 1994) who works on the ‘Economics of Identity’: how and why people classify people based on identity in the context of a theory of ethnic trading networks. In developing the ‘bioeconomics’ (the synthesis of economics with biology) of classification, we crossed a number of disciplinary boundaries—anthropology, economics, sociology, biology, and cognitive psychology including evolutionary psychology’s ‘fast and frugal’ heuristics. Using a bioeconomics approach, we argue that folk classifications—the classifications used by ordinary persons—have much in common with scientific classifications: underlying both is the need for economy of information processing in the brain, for the efficient organization of knowledge, and for efficiency of information acquisition and transmission of information to others. Both evolve as a result of trial and error, but in science there is relatively more foresight, understanding, and planning.


categorization folk taxonomy identification economics of identity economics of classification institutions systematics taxonomy transaction costs new institutional economics ethnic trading networks social distance Homo classificus 

JEL Classification

D23 D83 L14 M13 O17 Z13 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for the History and Philosophy of ScienceCalifornia Academy of SciencesSan FranciscoUSA
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsYork UniversityTorontoCanada

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