Recently, when I was searching books on Amazon, the site recommended Fabricating Identities — the 3rd volume in the Working with Culture on the Edge book series, edited by Vaia Touna — as a “book of interest” for me. When the Amazon page for the volume loaded (of course I had to go down this rabbit hole), the category menu — located just above the cover image of the book — caught my eye. The genre breakdown (within the “Books” category) reads:
Health, Fitness & Dieting > Psychology & Counseling
Upon seeing this, I had to look up the other two volumes in the series to see which genre and sub-genre they had been assigned. Fabricating Origins, the first volume in the series, is grouped in
Politics & Social Sciences > Philosophy
whereas Fabricating Difference, the second volume, is listed in
Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies.
For those familiar with any of the volumes, these categorizations might, at first glance, seem a little puzzling, especially when put into conversation with one another. Even the order of some genres and sub-genres is somewhat intriguing if we understand genres to be stable, definitive categories by which books are classified.
However, in applying the analyses in these volumes to their categorizations on Amazon makes for a rather productive e.g. for thinking about what’s at stake in different processes of identification. In the Fabricating Identities afterword, Russell McCutcheon argues that identity is not an inherent, inner quality that is secondarily expressed; rather, it is something that is assigned or imposed by certain social actors and for a particular purpose. Put differently, the categories or genres used on Amazon don’t describe or reveal anything about the books themselves. It’s far more likely that Amazon algorithms categorize the books based on a variety of data. Perhaps they use key words from the Table of Contents, — e.g., the “Who are you?” in many of the chapter titles of Fabricating Identities may explain why the book is listed under “Psychology and Counseling”? While I certainly don’t know how the Amazon algorithms categorize books by genre, it is clear that there’s a lot more at work in these processes of classification.
So whether it’s analyzing the fabrication of origins or the fabrication of genres, it’s strategic identification all the way down.