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Taxonomy of the youth field

Current work:

The September 2004 issue of our journal, Youth Studies Australia (v.23, n.3, 2004) contains a loose insert (feedback form) on our work here at ACYS relating to the development of a taxonomy, or system of classification, for the youth field.

Nailing the topics
To date, ACYS has not identified a single Australian subject thesaurus that covers the range of subject matter in youth studies to an appropriate level of precision.

We are now comparing the ACYS thesaurus, as developed to date, with other Australian thesauri such as APAIS, FAMILY and TAGS (Thesaurus of Australian Government Subjects) and with the UK Thesaurus on Youth: Integrated Classification and Thesaurus for Youth Affairs and Related Topics (National Youth Bureau, 1981) and the taxonomy of youth studies by Jerome Beker.

People are the essential, irreplaceable part of this work. Your participation would be highly valued and your response most appreciated. Please would you complete the online form by Tuesday 12 October 2004, using that form to





Taxonomy of Australian Youth Studies (TAYS)

1. Background:

During the development of the Australian Youth Facts and Stats project, ACYS revised its in-house thesaurus of terms and has now embarked on developing a thesaurus-based descriptive Taxonomy of Australian Youth Studies (TAYS) to help ACYS -- and potentially, other organisations in the field -- to identify and describe youth studies in a multidisciplinary context.

Why is a taxonomy is needed?

  • As an emerging field, youth studies is assuming an increasing academic profile -- and producing an increasing volume of literature. Straddling as it does both academia and the world of practice, youth studies -- the study of youth aged 10 to 24 -- is often described as a subset of other disciplines, and descriptions of the youth field are dependent on who is doing the describing (youth researchers, youth workers, policy-makers, statisticians, educators or knowledge-workers in related disciplines, or youth themselves).
  • The Australian Clearinghouse for Youth Studies communicates across many disciplines and with people who do not necessarily have academic or research backgrounds, it is important to make our information as clear and reader-friendly as possible.
    That includes the challenge of making our information consistent, using the same terms to mean the same thing in similar contexts.
  • When similar organisations use a different term for the same concept, this is often a symptom of the lack of communication between communities. A thesaurus and a taxonomy can help in cases such as this: 'Two databases may use different identifiers for what is in fact the same concept' ... and the solution is to provide 'a document or file that formally defines the relation among terms' -- Tim Berners-Lee, 'The Semantic Web', in The Scientific American, May 2001.



A thesaurus is a networked collection of controlled vocabulary terms.


The ACYS thesaurus aims to cover youth-specific topics -- as wide a range as possible (in detail) as well as other topics that are relevant to youth studies (in brief). The ACYS thesaurus will strive to represent terms in a consistent manner, in a neutral way, independent of any particular organisation or sector 'view'.


Having unique expertise and access to literature resources, the Australian Clearinghouse for Youth Studies is ideally placed to develop a youth studies taxonomy. ACYS expertise includes editors and a librarian who have all been in the youth field for many years, plus an extensive network of colleagues.


A thesaurus is a networked collection of controlled vocabulary terms, and a taxonomy takes those terms, and organises them into a hierarchical structure. Taxonomies are the framework or guiding structures behind the classification schemes and indexing systems we commonly use, such as the Dewey Decimal System or Library of Congress, and they help to show the nodes, groupings and inter-relationships that can emerge from information in many patterns. A taxonomy -- the word is derived from the Greek words 'taxis', meaning arrangement and 'nomos', meaning law -- is also the unseen but vital backbone for databases in aiding precision searching.


  • ACYS, with participation from its collegial network, will construct a broad, uncomplicated taxonomic description of Australian youth studies, taking into account the multidisciplinary nature and linkages of the field and relying on the thesaurus model for its underlying structure. (TAYS will stop at each node where it bumps into a field of knowledge with an existing 'map' -- for example, family studies or suicide prevention.)
  • While our taxonomy will be internationally understandable, we are specifying the Australian youth studies field because we have noted differences in both British and North American application of terms. New Zealand is likely to be similar to Australia, and after consultation with NZ colleagues, we may well end up with TANZYS!
  • Also, in keeping with our primary focus, we are specifying youth 'studies' rather than the youth field in general, that is the focus is on research and practice rather than youth affairs.


  • Please complete the online form by Tuesday 12 October 2004.


Finding the WORDS
In:Youth Studies Australia v.23, n.1, 2004 pp.2-3

Nailing the topics, insert in Youth Studies Australia v.23, n.1, 2004, available online.

Also see: 'What are the differences between a vocabulary, a taxonomy, a thesaurus, an ontology, and a meta-model?' by W. Pidcock, Boeing, and comment by J. Ernst, online posting, 15 January 2003.


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