Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Mutuality as Miscellaneous: Feminist Theology-Library Science Crossover!

Since it's finally summer, and coursework for the year is over, I'm getting to some "fun" reading... which turns out to still be related to my Organization of Information and Resources class (so much so that I think it should have been required reading).

The book is called Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger, and I'm only halfway through, but I highly recommend it--and not just to librarian-types. It's definitely everyone-accessible.

But the interesting thing is not the book itself.

What's interesting is that I'm reading it through the context of feminism and all the feminist theology I've been reading lately (including Rachel Held Evans's "Week of Mutuality" #mutuality2012).

Weinberger explains that there are three types of order:
  1. The order of physical things themselves--where things go, like books on shelves.
  2. The order of information about the things of the first order--a directory of where things go, like a catalog.
  3. The order of digital "things" which take up no space--the removal of the first and second orders' limitations
Weinberger talks about how, historically, people have been bound to ideas of "natural order" or "heavenly order" that, when analyzed critically, turn out to still be established rather arbitrarily. For example, planets are real things that exist in nature, but to classify an entity as a planet, it has to meet certain criteria, and this criteria is just a definition established by astronomers, and the astronomers don't even agree on the definition. Further, some think that the whole concept of a class of "planets" is totally cultural to begin with, and doesn't even translate globally. Weinberger says that "Maintaining a category of planets says less about the nature of our universe than about our need to imagine walking on speres other than our own blue one" (39).

He goes on to show how Aristotelian categorization has prevailed as the organizational structure of choice for millennia, with its hierarchical trees and nesting of smaller categories into larger.

Truly, the Aristotelian system is useful in many ways (if only because its engrained in our collective psyche). But with the rise of the digital age and postmodernity, its cracks are beginning to leak.

I see that this is also true in the patriarchal hierarchy of the church.

Weinberger says that "Classification is a power struggle--it is political--because the first two orders of order require that there be a winner. The third order takes the territory subjugated by classification and liberates it. Instead of forcing it into categories, it tags it" (91-92).

I refuse to believe that this is not as relevant to me as a woman in the church as it is to me as a librarian in a digital context.

There no longer has to be a winner. Men and women (and everyone in between) can live and serve and minister as miscellaneous persons, "tagging" themselves as they are called and doing what they are meant to do.

The first two orders are no longer sufficient for organizing information or society. We are in a new time--historically and in light of the incarnation and resurrection--and we should be liberated by the ability to be miscellaneous, be what we are, without trying to force our new wine into old wineskins. This new wine will burst the old wineskins. Let's allow it to spill out.

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