Term of Art: Taxonomy

“Taxonomy: A taxonomy (or typology) is a classification. To classify social phenomena is not to explain them. For example, sociologists of religion commonly use a taxonomy of religious organizations which embraces the categories of church, denomination, sect, and cult. This classifies religious groupings according to their organizational structure (for example, bureaucratic or informal), adjustment to the prevailing order (world-rejecting, world accommodating, and so forth), and principal mode of recruitment (ascribed membership by birth or achieved membership by voluntary attachment). This particular classification does not explain why certain individuals practice religion, while others do not, nor does it offer a theory of how religious organizations arise or develop. In practice, however, many sociological taxonomies are implicitly etiological (causal). A well-known example is Durkheim’s classification of the types of suicide—egoistic, altruistic, anomic, and fatalistic—a taxonomy which also embodies a theory about why people kill themselves intentionally.”

Excerpted from: Marshall, Gordon, ed. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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