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Relations in KOS: is it possible to couple a common nature with different roles?

Fulvio Mazzocchi (National Research Council, Institute for Complex Systems, Monterotondo, Italy)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 13 March 2017




The purpose of this paper, which increases and deepens what was expressed in a previous work (Mazzocchi et al., 2007), is to scrutinize the underlying assumptions of the types of relations included in thesauri, particularly the genus-species relation. Logicist approaches to information organization, which are still dominant, will be compared with hermeneutically oriented approaches. In the light of these approaches, the nature and features of the relations, and what the notion of a priori could possibly mean with regard to them, are examined, together with the implications for designing and implementing knowledge organizations systems (KOS).


The inquiry is based on how the relations are described in literature, engaging in particular a discussion with Hjørland (2015) and Svenonius (2004). The philosophical roots of today’s leading views are briefly illustrated, in order to put them under perspective and deconstruct the uncritical reception of their authority. To corroborate the discussion a semantic analysis of specific terms and relations is provided too.


All relations should be seen as “perspectival” (not as a priori). On the other hand, different types of relations, depending on the conceptual features of the terms involved, can hold a different degree of “stability.” On this basis, they could be used to address different information concerns (e.g. interoperability vs expressiveness).

Research limitations/implications

Some arguments that the paper puts forth at the conceptual level need to be tested in application contexts.


This paper considers that the standpoint of logic and of hermeneutic (usually seen as conflicting) are both significant for information organization, and could be pragmatically integrated. In accordance with this view, an extension of thesaurus relations’ set is advised, meaning that perspective hierarchical relations (i.e. relations that are not logically based but function contingently) should be also included in such a set.



The author would like to thank the two anonymous referees for their helpful observations on this paper.


Mazzocchi, F. (2017), "Relations in KOS: is it possible to couple a common nature with different roles?", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 73 No. 2, pp. 368-383.



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