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Warrant as a means to study classification system design

Julia Bullard (School of Information, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 9 January 2017



The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of warrant in daily classification design in general and in negotiating disparate classification goals in particular.


This paper synthesizes classification research on forms of warrant and uses examples of classification decisions from ethnographic engagement with designers to illustrate how forms of warrant interact in daily classification decisions.


Different forms of warrant, though associated with incompatible theories of classification design, coexist in daily classification decisions. A secondary warrant might be employed to augment the primary warrant of a system, such as to decide among equally valid terms, or to overturn a decision based on the primary warrant, such as when ethical impacts are prioritized above user preference.

Research limitations/implications

This paper calls for empirical research using the application of warrant as an object of analysis.


The paper connects a ubiquitous and observable element of classification design – the application of warrant – to longstanding divisions in classification theory. This paper demonstrates how the analysis of daily classification design can illuminate the interaction between disparate philosophies of classification.



Bullard, J. (2017), "Warrant as a means to study classification system design", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 73 No. 1, pp. 75-90.



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