How Culture May Influence Ontology Co-Design: A Qualitative Study

How Culture May Influence Ontology Co-Design: A Qualitative Study

Linda Anticoli (Università di Udine, Italy) and Elio Toppano (Università di Udine, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/jitwe.2011040101
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This article addresses the issue of cultural influence in ontology design and reuse. The main assumption is that an ontology is not only a socio-technical artefact but also a cultural artefact. It contains embedded assumptions, core values, points of view, beliefs, thought patterns, etc. Based on results already found in several design fields the authors formulate some preliminary hypotheses about the possible relationships existing between culture and features of design process and produced ontology. A critical and qualitative analysis of six collaborative design systems has been performed to test some of the hypotheses, confirming some of the findings. The authors argue that a “culture aware” attitude may be of great importance for supporting the processes of cross cultural collaborative ontology design and the internalization and localization of these kinds of artefacts.
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Ontology engineering has been traditionally viewed as a purely technical activity. As a consequence the social, communicative and rhetorical aspects that are at the base of collaborative ontology design and reuse are usually filtered out or not adequately tackled (Toppano et al., 2008). The main assumption we make is that an ontology is not only a socio-technical artefact but also a cultural artefact (Toppano, 2010). It embodies assumptions, deep values, points of view, beliefs, etc. of the community that developed it. The (re)use of an ontology - either when it is used as a metamodel for an entire application (or for a part of it) or when it is used to annotate and support reasoning about specific web resources - informs the perception, interpretation, and action in the world. Ontology designers, instead of simply making an “object”, are actually creating a persuasive argument that is embodied within the artefact and that comes to life whenever a user uses the ontology as a means to some end (Buchanan, 1985). In this study we intend to explore how culture may influence collaborative ontology design. Recently several research efforts have been devoted to study the role of culture in design. These efforts mainly concentrate in the field of interface design (Marcus & Gould, 2000; Ford & Kotzé, 2005), (Kersten et al., 2002), and web design (Wurtz, 2005; Callahan, 2005; Pfeil et al., 2006). This interest is strictly related to the internalization and localization processes of these products. Despite the importance of cultural factors, at present we do not know studies that have tackled this problem in the field of ontology engineering. We argue instead that a “culture aware” approach may be of great importance for the development of systems (e.g., web services) that more or less implicitly adopt ontologies and for supporting the processes of intercultural collaborative design. This study is a preliminary investigation. We have reviewed relevant literature on cross-cultural design and tried to distil some findings that could be useful in our application domain. We are aware of the fact that such findings might be specific to the inquiry context in which they were discovered (i.e., that people may exhibit different cultural characteristics when assessed in different contexts). However, we think that such an effort can be used as a starting point for future more focused and rigorous work. The paper is organized as follows. We start with a brief discussion of the concept of culture, dimensions of cultural variation and the role culture has on thought. Next we summarize some perspectives about technology that we deem relevant to understand the different orientations of researchers about the nature of ontology and its development. Thirdly, some hypotheses about how culture may influence the concept of ontology adopted by researchers, the structure of the ontology conceptualisation and the design process are formulated. Finally, a critical analysis of six systems is presented in order to test some of the hypotheses, followed by conclusions and future work.

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