Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto - OCS, 15th INTERNATIONAL ISKO CONFERENCE

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Maria Aparecida Moura

Last modified: 2017-12-03



The processes of information and knowledge production, circulation and organization have undergone several transformations in the last few years. It is possible to note the uprising of intense questioning about the limits for knowledge organization systems which, from the perspective of pervasive criticism, tend to reify knowledge for a shared verisimilitude in the interior of hegemonic groups. Such procedures would lead, at its limit, to the production of a partial mirroring of reality, rendering the presence of some themes, representations and subjectivities rarefied.

In that sense, approaches claiming for a transversal and intersectional turn based on devices structured in the context of knowledge organization grow in numbers.

Considering the context of socio-technical changes and power relation shifts, the concerns and the public perception that knowledge organization devices can be used as tools for domination systems has become more widespread (Berman, 1971, Olson, 1998; Drumm, 2000; Mai, 2010, Higgins, 2016; Adler, 2016).

Consequently, we are at a social-historical moment in which the theme of discursive reparations in communication and knowledge organization domains finds room for reflection. Foucault (1995) emphasizes that contemporary struggles are transversal, targeting the effects of power; these struggles are no longer limited by geographical boundaries.

Through an analysis of power relations, Foucault (1995) identifies a triple typology marked by support, imbrication and functioning as an instrument. They are as follows: the communication relations, the power relations and the objective capacities. The author highlights that these relations are neither uniform, nor constant. However, “there are also ‘blokages’ in which the adjustment of capacities, the bundles of communication and power relations constitute regulated systems and accords” (Foucault, 1995, p. 241). Disciplines, then, have their role under the spotlight because they “show, according to artificially clear and decanted schemes, the way objective finality systems, communications and power systems may articulate over each other”.

Foucault understands that power is “a way for some to structure the field of possible actions by others”. For that reason, it was considered pertinent for this work to reflect on the unfolding for such a perspective in the composition and update of knowledge organization devices. It was also perceived that it is relevant to identify remains kept by these devices with socio-historical conditions and ethical modes of existence presumed in the discourses that promulgate them.

Intersectionality is a concept proposed by Crenshaw in 1989 that refers to the multiple interactions that constitute the human being. These interactions are invariably crossed and informed by different systems and power structures. From a structural perspective, intersectionality reveals schemata and interfaces that prevent egalitarian access to power structures and, from the political point of view, emphasizes the perpetuity of the marginalization of certain social strata.

In the sphere of knowledge organization processes, guarantees work as analytical operators guiding the methods for Knowledge Organization Systems (KOS). Historically, these operators have been under suspicion due to the function of naturalization and the risk of perpetuating prejudices, absences and regimes of oppression they may engineer.

In that sense, semantic guarantees, as Campbell (2008) apud Roger (2016, p. 110) claims, reveal a “permanent commitment from systems and information contexts for analysing, justifying and reviewing semantic elements that structure the represented knowledge”.


The study aimed at analysing the relations between intersectionality, power relations and language as theoretical scales of explication and knowledge organization device updates. I sought to rethink the analytical assumption represented by canonical guarantees (literary, of use, and structural) historically used as inhibitors for language subjectivation in situations of knowledge representation. In order to achieve these aims, a KOS guided by the intersectional perspective in the themes of race, gender, sexuality and Feminist Studies, based on specialized literature and the language used in spaces for sharing information was built, focusing on social activism in these themes.

The KOS created was compared with EIGE’S Gender Equality Glossary and Thesaurus and The Women’s Thesaurus with the objective of identifying limits and possibilities for intersectional representation in the proposed themes.

Main results

Considering that power and oppression regimes present a multiform perspective that is often naturalized in language, the work resulted in the understanding of possibilities for articulation and increasing compatibility of cultural guarantees as an umbrella concept (Guedes, 2016, p. 90), incorporation other guarantees. From that point of view, a dialogical and intersectional KOS was consolidated, considering in its formulation the fundamental role of sensibility concepts (Guedes, 2016, p. 114-115), such as ideology, culture, intersectionality, power and ethics. From the perspective of modelling and language agency, an attempt was made at demonstrating, through the “COEXISTENCE | Thesaurus of intersectionality | race| gender| sexuality | feminist studies” KOS, the diverse layers that compose identity politics in the social sphere and the possibilities for critical modelling of the language derived from these practices.


Understanding the socio-cultural, arbitrary and plural characteristic of language has increasingly demanded the effectiveness in interdisciplinary dialogue and a return to theoretical and experimental issues previously effected in the field of knowledge organization.

It was concluded that the effectiveness in a KOS in a fundamentally human enterprise that results from discursive disputes on the socio-cultural context is presented as semantic relations mediated by socio-technical devices.

In this study, the translation of a multiform dynamics of contemporary identity processes in KOS required the acknowledgement of the historical effort done by researchers from the field of knowledge organization, followed by an admission of the need for new forms of preventing crystallization in infinite discursive disputes, existing within knowledge representation systems. In these terms, the concepts of power and structural and political intersectionality provided an understanding of the multidimensional character and the reciprocal influence that are present in social relations mediated by the combined presences of racism, sexism and patriarchalism. That allowed for a reduction in the effects of an essentialist view of the concept of woman and social hierarchies that result from it, in the experience of creating a dialogic and intersectional KOS.