Cataloguing, knowledge and power

Abstract

This paper seeks to unpick the changing perceptions of the concepts contained in its title and investigate some of the relationships between them. It does this by exploring the history of modern cataloguing from the mid 1800s to the present day. It is argued that over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries cataloguing developments took place predominantly in the library world and, understood through the principles of European Enlightenment thought, catalogues were perceived to provide the public with access to external knowledge and thus empower them. It then identifies technological, cultural and ideological developments in the twentieth century, notably the rise of ‘postmodernism’, as challenges to both the primacy of library catalogues and the tradition of Enlightenment thought within which they were conceived. Finally, it argues that corporate digital companies are now at the forefront of cataloguing and explores the way in which the public have become the subject of these catalogues. Drawing upon Foucauldian theory, it is suggested that rather than allowing knowledge and power to flow to the public these catalogues enable corporate and government bodies to hold it over the public and use it to influence their lives in unprecedented ways.

Published
2019-05-20
Section
Research Articles