W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > public-owl-dev@w3.org > January to March 2008

Re: post-structuralistm and (formal) ontologies

From: Kendall Clark <kendall@clarkparsia.com>
Date: Mon, 04 Feb 2008 12:27:57 -0500
To: Owl Dev <public-owl-dev@w3.org>
Cc: Jeremy Carroll <jjc@hpl.hp.com>, Karl Dubost <karl@w3.org>, Dan Brickley <danbri@danbri.org>
Message-Id: <1202146077.983.327.camel@k-desktop.int.clarkparsia.com>

On Mon, 2008-02-04 at 06:06 -0800, Dan Brickley wrote:
> (copying Karl, with whom I've discussed some of this before)
> Jeremy Carroll wrote:
> > 
> > 
> > I am looking for pointers for thinking about whether some ontological 
> > constructs, maybe owl:complementOf, are patriarchal.
> > I am wondering whether work by people like Foucault or say some 
> > feminists could be used as a basis for this.
> There is a worrying trend in leftist, progressiveish and feminist 
> thought in which logic is seen as an extension of the penis.

Let's set the strictly political considerations aside, since the problem
Jeremy is addressing is really quite general.

> > A sample argument, in sketch form, would be that a political affirmative 
> > definition of gender would be by positive qualities of 'feminine' and 
> > positive qualities of 'masculine', without an assertion of the 
> > disjointness, or the definition of say female as not male.

Every representational scheme is context-specific and interest-relative;
even if logic itself isn't "male (or oppressive or racist or western or
white or ...) all the way down", every ontology is reflective of some
set of interests, possibly ones that are contested or essentially

Hence, ontologies are always already social and political artifacts.
Which means, among other things, that they may be used as tools to
reinforce bad things happening to people; or, more specifically, as part
of the enormous social-cultural edifice that is used to justify the
status quo, etc.

Okay, if that is true, what follows? A few things, IMO:

1. We can avoid particularly contentious issues about left, right,
feminist, misogynist, etc. and concentrate on the core issue, that is,
whether there is or can be any representational scheme that *isn't*
political or social.

2. We should really do work that in *some other context entirely*.

In other words: ff there is something to be said about Jeremy's line of
inquiry, as I'm suggesting here and as Dan suggests, there's nothing
necessarily OWL or RDF or SemWeb or
this line of criticism.

Unless one can show that OWL or RDF are *especially* prone to or
implicated in some kind of oppressive social structure, this line of
inquiry *qua an OWL or SemWeb issue* just isn't very relevant in this
context. And Dan's said enough, IMO, to suggest a reasonable prima facie
case that neither OWL nor RDF nor any other appropriate topic for this
mailing list are *especially* troublesome w/r/t Jeremy's inquiry.

Thus, while I think Jeremy's line of inquiry is interesting enough to
pursue, and I did actually do some work on it back in 2000, it's not
something that computer scientists, qua computer scientists, are
especially well prepared to work on. It's a question of the politics of
technology or social informatics more broadly construed, and should be
approached w/ the tools, methods, and background knowledge of the
practitioners of *those* disciplines.

>  > Any pointers appreciated.
>  >
>  > Jeremy

There are two kinds of "radical reworkings of Western binary logics"
that one can find in two different sorts of technical literature:

  a. those done by politically motivated non-specialists, typically
under the disciplinary rubric of Continental Philosophy, Comparative
Literature, etc. I recommend avoiding these as, generally, utter
rubbish. They are, at best, poetic suggestions of the possibilities.

  b. those done by actual logicians, motivated notionally by standards
and norms inherent to logic as a discipline, rather than by other
political motivations. These are, generally, vastly more interesting
because more coherent and rigorous. One name that pops into my head as
worth reading in this regard is the paraconsistency work of Graham
Priest, but there are any others.

There's a very interesting social informatics school at Indiana
University that has some people working on some of these sorts of
issues. And, generally, politics of technology is the sort of thing that
some kinds of historians, sociologists, etc work on. David Noble is my
favorite historian working on critical appraisals of technolgy; he's
quite good and quite brave. (He sued York University in Canada, etc.) He
takes a Marxist rather than Foucauldian line, but that's a triviality
from some perspectives.

Also, Jeremy, as you indicated, there's quite a bit of feminist work in
related areas; "feminist epistemology" is a google search I would expect
you to find interesting in this regard.

> ps. did you see http://www.xml.com/pub/a/2001/01/31/politics.html
> http://www.xml.com/pub/a/2001/02/07/politics.html
> http://monkeyfist.com/articles/743 from Kendall Clark?

These are obviously ground breaking and deeply significant! :>

Received on Monday, 4 February 2008 17:28:25 UTC

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.1 : Tuesday, 6 January 2015 20:58:16 UTC