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Pigeonholing is a process that attempts to classify disparate entities into a limited number of categories (usually, mutually exclusive ones).
When considering various classification schemes, one must be aware of the following pitfalls:
- Using categories that are poorly defined (e.g., because they are subjective).
- Entities may be suited to more than one category. Example: rhubarb is both 'poisonous' and 'edible'.
- Entities may not fit into any available category. Example: asking somebody from Washington, D.C. which state they live in.
- Entities may change over time, so they no longer fit the category in which they have been placed. Example: certain species of fish may change from male to female during their life.
- Attempting to discretize properties that would be better viewed as a continuum must be taken with caution. Example: while sorting people into 'introverted' and 'extroverted' one must keep in mind that most people exhibit both traits to some degree.
An example of pigeonholing in everyday conversation occurs when a person making an apolitical or barely political comment is assumed to have a certain political belief, without ascertaining their political stance. Such an erroneous designation is especially erroneous when assigning it to people who live in places where the right-wing left-wing dichotomy is not present.
- Oxford English Dictionary (Third ed.). March 2006. Retrieved 31 May 2011.
Online version March 2011. An entry for this word was first included in New English Dictionary, 1906.[dead link]
- Lipset, Seymour Martin, and Asoke Basu. "The roles of the intellectual and political roles." The Intelligentsia and the Intellectuals: Theory, Method and Case Study (1976): 111-150.