Dangerous drawers

Classification systems are useful for all sorts of people

Here are some of the areas in which categorisation is essential.

  • History (think of museums, libraries, archaeologists)
  • Scientific enquiry (think of detective work, genetic engineers, those finding cures for disease)
  • Politics (think of spin doctors, revolutionaries, those who spoil their ballot papers)
  • Food (think of cooks looking for ingredients, nutritionists, witches thinking up spells, supermarket owners)
  • Geography (think of explorers, anthropologists, map makers)
  • Journalism (think of war correspondents, political commentators, film critics).


Imagine you belong to one of the professions listed above. Can you think of some processes of categorisation that might come in handy?

Example: A cook will organise her cupboards. She may place her spices in alphabetical order. Her recipe books might be sorted into subject areas such as 'food from different countries', 'food from different eras', 'food made by the most attractive celebrity chef'; 'food which didn't taste so good'.

But are there ways in which categorisation can be dangerous? Can fixed categories cause misconceptions or prejudice?

Is it ever dangerous to categorise knowledge?

Try to solve the following riddle?

A man and his son are driving along and get into a bad car accident. The ambulance shows up and takes them both to the hospital. The son is rushed into surgery. The doctor arrives in the operating room, looks down at the patient and says, 'I can't operate on this boy, he is my son.' How is this possible?

Answer on the next page