Taxonomy of heterogeneities

Contention motivating this taxonomizing: Research as well as the application of knowledge resulting from research are untroubled by heterogeneity to the extent that populations are well controlled. Such control can only be established and maintained with considerable effort or social infrastructure, which invites attention to possibilities for participation instead of control of human subjects.

The taxonomizing is an incomplete work in progress; comments welcome.

Kinds of heterogeneity

Static 1. There is an assortment, each a separate type (“cabinet of curiosities”)
or 2. Mixture of types (e.g., allelic heterogeneity & locus heterogeneity in genetics)
Variational 3. Trait = composite of types (analogy: the 3 components of a triathalon)
4. There is variation, not types
5. Variation in a set of traits involves a composite of variance/covariance structures (statistical heterogeneity)
6. When similar responses of different individual (e.g., genetic) types are observed, it is not necessarily the case that similar conjunctions of risk or protective factors have been involved in producing those responses (=possibility of “underlying heterogeneity”)
Dynamic 7. Variation produces qualitative changes in results from standard theory based on uniform units (e.g., theory about Malthusian population growth, tragedy of the commons, prisoner’s dilemma)
8. “Unruly complexity,” which arises whenever there is ongoing change in the structure of situations that have built up over time from heterogeneous components and are embedded or situated within wider dynamics. (Synonym: “intersecting processes”)
8a. In heterogeneous construction researchers establish knowledge and technological reliability through practices that are developed through diverse and often modest practical choices. This is the same as saying they are involved in contingent and on-going mobilizing of diverse materials, tools, people, and other resources into webs of interconnected resources.
Dynamic-participatory 9. Multiple points of engagement allow for participatory restructuring of unruly complexity or heterogeneous construction
10. Participatory restructuring, which occurs in tension with deployment or withholding of trans-local knowledge and resources.

Actions corresponding to each kind of heterogeneity

including the control (C) that allows one not to be troubled by the heterogeneity and possibilities for participation (P)

1. Question [P] (or suppress the question [C]) about why this assortment has been collected into one list.
2. In medical sociology Brown & Harris find common meaning despite different types of experience (through coding of sameness despite surface heterogeneity).
3. Disaggregate/decompose into separate phenomena
4. C: Make people fit types (stereotyping, panopticon, screening & surveillance, public health measures, diagnostic manuals, reassignment surgery…) Control/ignore non-conformers.
6. C: Look for subclasses in which underlying factors are uniform. If found, use to probe or extrapolate (perhaps unsuccessfully) back to other subclasses.
8. Diagramming of intersecting processes, which exposes multiple points of engagement->8a
8a. Mapping by researchers of situations and situatedness [P]
9. Well-facilitated participatory processes


Taylor, P. J. (2005). Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
Taylor, P. J. (2009). “Infrastructure and Scaffolding: Interpretation and Change of Research Involving Human Genetic Information.” Science as Culture, 18(4):435-459.
Taylor, P. J. (2010). “Three puzzles and eight gaps: What heritability studies and critical commentaries have not paid enough attention to.” Biology & Philosophy, 25:1-31. (DOI 10.1007/s10539-009-9174-x).

2. Taylor 2009
6. Taylor 2010
7. Taylor 2005
8. Taylor 2005
9. Taylor 2005
10. Taylor 2009

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