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Tip: Understanding Rank

PEP-Web Tip of the Day

When you do a search, you can sort the results bibliographically alphabetical or by “rank”. What is Rank?

Rank refers to the search engine’s “best guess” as to the relevance of the result to the search you specified. The exact method of ranking used varies a bit depending on the search. In its most basic level, when you specify a single search term, rank looks at the density of the matches for the word in the document, and how close to the beginning of the document they appear as a measure of importance to the paper’s topic. The documents with the most matches and where the term is deemed to have the most importance, have the highest “relevance” and are ranked first (presented first).

When you specify more than one term to appear anywhere in the article, the method is similar, but the search engine looks at how many of those terms appear, and how close together they appear, how close to the beginning of the document, and can even take into account the relative rarity of the search terms and their density in the retrieved file, where infrequent terms count more heavily than common terms.

To see a simple example of this, search for the words (not the phrase, so no quotes):

unconscious communications

Look at the density of matches in each document on the first page of the hits. Then go to the last page of matched documents, and observe the density of matches within the documents.

A more complex search illustrates this nicely with a single page and only 15 matches:

counter*tr* w/25 “liv* out” w/25 enact*

There are a lot of word forms and variants of the words (due to the * wildcards) above that can match, but the proximity (w/25) clause limits the potential for matching. What’s interesting here though is how easily you can see the match density decrease as you view down the short list.

The end result of selecting order by rank is that the search engine’s best “guess” as to which articles are more relevant appear higher on the list than less relevant articles.

For the complete list of tips, see PEP-Web Tips on the PEP-Web support page.

Wilson, M. (2017). Body and Symbol: Introduction to Hansbury and Commentators. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 65(6):1005-1008.

(2017). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 65(6):1005-1008

Body and Symbol: Introduction to Hansbury and Commentators

Mitchell Wilson

… perpetually unnamed, the female genital preserves its status as that which resists naming and being known. And so why name it, or try? Because the vagina is the quintessential representation of and symbol for space—the space for generation, the space for intercourse, the space for discourse, Winnicott's “potential space” for play, for the emergence of what he called the “spontaneous gesture.” As long as that (vaginal) space—metaphorical and literal—remains unspeakable, it remains diffuse, it remains inconceivable.

—Jill Gentile (2016, p. 200)

In his classic text “The Signification of the Phallus,” Lacan (1958) put the anatomical penis in a truly psychoanalytic context by showing that its human function is not biological but instead symbolic. As the fundamental signifier of difference (linguistic, gendered, sexual, generational), the phallus, Lacan argued, is not one signifier among many; rather, it grounds the entire symbolic order in which the human subject lives. While the phallus has had a complex, and contested, trajectory within the Lacanian theoretical corpus, this crucial step from body to symbol—from the normative constraints of “anatomy is destiny” to a theorization of the phallus-as-signifier unmoored by a bodily anchor—has had consequences that reach far beyond psychoanalytic theory. In fact, many lives have been changed by this move. If we are all “symbolically castrated subjects,” and if any subject can be in some meaningful relation to the phallic signifier, then whole worlds of gender performativity and polymorphous sexual object choice can be not only imagined as possible but also engaged-in-fact.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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