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34 Fed. Probation 15 (1970)
The Care and Feeding of Typologies and Labels

handle is hein.journals/fedpro34 and id is 197 raw text is: The Care and Feeding of
Typologies and Labels*
Professor of Psychology, School of Criminal Justice, State University of New York at Albany

LAYING the classification game in the ab-
stract, as is done in universities, is a joyful,
exhilarating enterprise, harmless and incon-
sequential. Classifying people in life is a grim
business which channelizes destinies and deter-
mines fate. A man becomes a category, is proces-
sed as a category, plays his assigned role, and
lives up to the implications. Labelled irrational,
he acts crazy. Catalogued dangerous, he becomes
dangerous, or he stays behind bars.
Classifications are attractive because they tie
into preconceptions, use instruments, and feed
into dispositional alternatives. They convert am-
biguity and complexity into neat packages that
can be handled and processed. These packages
are ours because we shape them. To varying de-
grees, we sacrifice validity for convenience; if
the latter is great, we become increasingly imag-
The Categorization Problem
When do we start to worry about classificatory
schemes? It would be deceptive to pose this ques-
tion only with respect to formal systems or
categories. A rose smells sweet-in fact, sweeter-
if we ignore its botanical pseudonyms and con-
centrate on stereotyped sentiment. A man is
viewed with suspicion if categorized as a ding
dong just as when diagnosed as schizoid or
manic depressive.
On the other hand, we cannot worry about any
propensity toward categorization. Man is a stereo-
typing animal and needs to generalize in order to
cope with reality. As Walter Lippmann put it:
... modern life is hurried and multifarious. Above all,
physical distance separates men who are often in vital
contact with each other, such as employer and employee,
official and voter. There is neither time nor opportunity
for intimate acquaintance. Instead we notice a trait
which marks a well known type, and fill in the rest of
the picture by means of the stereotypes we carry about
*This paper is an expanded and modified version of a panel
presentation delivered at the American Psychological Association,
September 1969, entitled Classifying Violent People.
I Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion. New York: MacMillan, 1930,
pp. 66-67.

in our heads. He is an agitator. That much we notice, or
are told. Well, an agitator is this sort of person, and so
he is this sort of person. He is an intellectual. He is a
plutocrat. He is a foreigner. He is a South European.
He is from Back Bay. He is a Harvard Man. How
different from the statement: he is a Yale Man. He is a
regular fellow. He is a West Pointer. He is an old army
sergeant. He is a Greenwich Villager: what don't we
know about him then, and about her? He is an inter-
national banker. He is from Main Street.
The subtlest and most pervasive of all influences are
those which create and maintain the repertory of stereo-
types. We are told about the world before we see it. We
imagine most things before we experience them. And
those preconceptions, unless education has made us
acutely aware, govern deeply the whole process of per-
ception. They mark out certain objects as familiar or
strange, emphasizing the difference, so that the slightly
familiar is seen as very familiar, and the somewhat
strange as sharply alien. They are aroused by small
signs, which may vary from a true index to a vague
analogy. Aroused, they flood fresh vision with older
images, and project into the world what has been re-
surrected in memory. Were there no practical uni-
formities in the environment, there would be no econ-
omy and only error in the human habit of accepting
foresight for  sight. But there   are  uniformities
sufficiently accurate, and the need of economizing at-
tention is so inevitable, that the abandonment of all
stereotypes for a whole innocent approach to experience
would improvish human life.'
To me, the point of concern rests in any labels
that lead to sorting or dispositions. Categorization
that is used privately, as an aid to thinking, seems
harmless. True, it can produce communication
gaps (one man's crutch may be another's con-
fusion), but such a consequence is remediable and
even self-correcting.
Unfortunately, man is an influencing animal,
not a communicating one. We seek to convince
and are eager to adopt. Categories that start as
private tools tend, ultimately, to become guides
for action. At this point they acquire life-and
results-of their own. Mao Tse-tung once classed
conversation as propaganda. This makes sense,
presuming that eventually one of the conversa-
tional parties is a decision-maker.
A seminar on diagnosis in social work creates
no problems for me. But when a graduate of this
seminar, in his capacity of probation officer, sub-
mits a presentence report, I would argue that he
may become a propagandist, and must cope with
this danger.

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