‘Is There Nothing Outside the Tags? Towards a Poststructuralist Analysis of Social Tagging’,

Helen Murphy, Pauline Rafferty

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– The purpose of this paper is to explore relationships between social tagging and key poststructuralist principles; to devise and construct an analytical framework through which key poststructuralist principles are converted into workable research questions and applied to analyse Librarything tags, and to assess the validity of performing such an analysis. The research hypothesis is that tagging represents an imperfect analogy for the poststructuralist project.

– Tags from LibraryThing and from a library OPAC were compared and constrasted with Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) and publishers’ descriptions. Research questions derived from poststructuralism, asked whether tags destabilise meaning, whether and how far the death of the author is expressed in tags, and whether tags deconstruct LCSH.

– Tags can temporarily destabilise meaning by obfuscating the structure of a word. Meaning is destabilised, perhaps only momentarily, and then it is recreated; it might resemble the original meaning, or it may not, however any attempt to make tags useful or functional necessarily imposes some form of structure. The analysis indicates that in tagging, the author, if not dead, is ignored. Authoritative interpretations are not pervasively mimicked in the tags. In relation to LCSH, tagging decentres the dominant view, but neither exposes nor judges it. Nor does tagging achieve the final stage of the deconstructive process, showing the dominant view to be a constructed reality.

– This is one of very few studies to have attempted a critical theoretical approach to social tagging. It offers a novel methodological approach to undertaking analysis based on poststructuralist theory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)477-502
JournalJournal of Documentation
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • controlled languages
  • indexing
  • poststructuralism
  • tagging


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