By sylvie | April 4, 2006
I can never pass up a paper on expertise and categorisation, so for those of us who are interested in this subject, I point you to Folkbiology of freshwater fish, by Douglas L. Medin, Norbert O. Ross, Scott Atran, Douglas Cox, John Coley, Julia B. Proffitt and Sergey Blok, published in Cognition, volume 99, issue 3, pages 237-273.
Cross-cultural comparisons of categorization often confound cultural factors with expertise. This paper reports four experiments on the conceptual behavior of Native American and majority-culture fish experts. The two groups live in the same general area and engage in essentially the same set of fishing-related behaviors. Nonetheless, cultural differences were consistently observed. Majority-culture fish experts tended to sort fish into taxonomic and goal-related categories. They also showed an influence of goals on probes of ecological relations, tending to answer in terms of relations involving adult fish. Native American fish experts, in contrast, were more likely to sort ecologically. They were also more likely to see positive and reciprocal ecological relations, tending to answer in terms of relations involving the full life cycle of fish. Further experiments support the view that the cultural differences do not reflect different knowledge bases but rather differences in the organization and accessibility of knowledge. At a minimum the results suggest that similar activities within a well-structured domain do not necessarily lead to common conceptualizations.