Flimsy Fabric and Epistemic Presumptions

In two papers on authorship, my colleagues Hur-Li Lee and Hope Olson and I have been working out the intricate relationship between the iconic concept of attribution of responsibility, which seems to be the western notion, and the classificatory pillar, which seems to be the (what shall I say here?) non-western notion (derived in our papers from classic Chinese practice, and from what we can discern from the record of Callimichus).

What we see, however, is that “author,” even (or especially) in Anglo-American cataloging practice, is not about attribution, but about creating an alphabetico-classed arrangement of works. It gives a whole new twist to the concept of classification, but also to the comprehension of what often is called “bibliographic” description, which, it turns out, isn’t.

Here are the citations and the abstracts:

“The Flimsy Fabric of Authorship,” by Richard P. Smiraglia, Hur–‐Li Lee and Hope Olson. In Ménard, Elaine and Nesset, Valerie, eds., Information Science: Synergy through Diversity, Proceedings of the 38th Annual CAIS/ACSI Conference, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec. June 2-4 2010. http://www.cais–‐acsi.ca/proceedings/2010/CAIS089_OlsonLeeSmiraglia_Final.pdf

This paper is about authorship, its influence on bibliography and how that influence is reflected in cataloging across cultures. Beginning with Foucault’s question “what is an author”, it proceeds to demonstrate, through an examination of cataloging standards, that it is the role that is represented rather than true intellectual responsibility.

“Epistemic Presumptions of Authorship,” Richard P. Smiraglia, Hur-Li Lee, Hope A. Olson. iConference’11, February 8–11, 2011, Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. ACM 1-58113-000-0/00/0010

The major concern of this paper is the cultural ramification of the bibliographic conception of “authorship.” Beginning with Foucault’s question “what is an author” and his notion of an author as a cultural phenomenon, the paper proceeds to examine the treatment of authorship in cataloging practices of two ancient cultures, the Greek and the Chinese, as well as in the modern Anglo-American cataloging standards from Panizzi’s 91 rules to the draft of Resource Description and Access (RDA). An author, as the study shows, is constructed as part of the recognition of “a work” as an essential communicative social entity. All cataloging practices and standards examined, east or west, ancient or modern, exhibit a similar obsessive attitude toward the imposition of an author, be it only a name or a culturally identified entity responsible for the work. In fact, the study demonstrates that as far as cataloging is concerned authorship is the role that is represented rather than any true intellectual responsibility.

A third paper has been accepted for an issue of Library Trends.

%d bloggers like this: