In the article whose conceit I borrow, Edward Sapir argues that we use labels, which he characterizes as "empty thrones," in a necessary attempt for ontological and epistemological reasons-to encompass and objectify intrinsically ambiguous and contradictory concepts. Our ability to analyze, or even conduct sociocultural life, is facilitated by a willful finding of commonality among these concepts and by choosing particular labels that help us fix the meaning of concepts ... Sapir's metaphor of enthroning and dethroning through the contextual choice and deployment of contending labels implicates political contingency as well as a struggle over the significance, value, and consequence of particular labels. Insofar as an ethno-racial terrain is involved, labels become polysemic sites in which difference, rather than homogeneity, is made tangible, represented, and foregrounded, as well as challenged and re-construed. (p. 81)Quoted from Vilma Santiago-Irizarry, "Labels, Genuine and Spurious: anthropology and the politics of otherness in the United States," 2013, pp. 78-100.
We use labels for ontlogical and epistemological reasons. In Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry, Jurgen Ruesch wrote a brief introductory paragraph about "the definition of the context in which communication occurs" (1951: 23). "This context" he says "is summarized by the label which people give to specific social situations"; and adds that "Identification of a social situation is important both for the participant who wishes to communicate and for the scientist who aims at conceptualizing the process of communication" (ibid, 23). So right off the bat, the labels we use to identify the social context of situation for any given form of communication are necessary ontologically for the participant in the act of communicating and epistomologically for the observer's conceptualization of the process. I've used the shorthand meta-phatic labels for marking quotes useful for elaborating this aspect.
To encompass and objectify intrinsically ambiguous and contradictory concepts. In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Erving Goffman (1959: 85) discusses how "a performer is to sustain a particular definition of the situation, this representing, as it were, his claim as to what reality is." What reality is is intrinsically ambiguous, owing to the intrapersonal nature of perception and the interpersonal nature of claims about it. These claims are objectified in the definition of the situation, but what they encompass may be contradictory. Elsewhere in the book Goffman discusses how the "maintenance of expressive control" operates via the tendency to accept the same signs and the contingencies of compatibility and consistency in "the over-all definition of the situation that is being fostered" (1959: 51).
Conducting sociocultural life depends upon the ability to analyze the conceptual labels of situations. In "Language In Operation", Roman Jakobson (1981[1964e]: 7) provides a curious case of a complex situation. He overhears a scrap of conversation aboard a train. The man reports to a lady about a radio broadcast. It was a recording of a long-dead London actor performing Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" from 1845. In the poem, a lover is "lamenting his deceased mistress". In the lover's monologue a talking bird is uttering the word "nevermore", which it is implied to have picked up from some unhappy previous owner. Effectively, the radius of communication for this unique word, "nevermore" (in this instance) goes as follows: unhappy bird-owner → talking bird → new owner → the poem → recorded recitation → radio broadcast → some guy having an emotional experience listening to it → and telling a lady about it onboard a train → Roman Jakobson overhearing it → writing the occasion down and publishing it → us reading and writing about it. This can be endless.