Francesco Beretta: Modelling Social Life: an Extension of CIDOC CRM

According to a standard definition in information technology, an ontology is “a formal specification of a shared conceptualisation of a domain of interest”. The domain of social life is quite relevant not only for historical research but of course more generally for humanities and social sciences. It is therefore evident how interesting it would be to develop a widely used ontology for this domain, with different degrees of abstraction, allowing interoperability of research data in line with the FAIR principles. As a matter of fact we can observe that many projects model and produce data about social roles of persons, memberships in groups, economic and political activity, trends and conflicts in public opinion and societies, etc. The challenge appears then to find a conceptualisation that offers a high-level model of social life allowing for the integration of information in this domain of discourse, with an approach that is sufficiently robust to be accepted and used by specialists from different scientific disciplines.

This talk presents a possible response to this challenge in three steps. In a first step, it outlines the usefulness of adopting CIDOC CRM as a domain ontology for research in the humanities and social sciences, but also the limitations of this ontology when analysed from the point of view of foundational ontologies like DOLCE Lite Plus, and therefore the need to introduce an extension dedicated to social life. It will also present the efforts undertaken over the last few years by George Bruseker and myself to develop, from different perspectives and in the context of different user communities, an extension of CIDOC CRM dedicated to social life, called CRMsoc, which is currently being discussed in the CIDOC CRM Special Interest Group (SIG).

In a second step, the talk introduces the concept of intentionality, individual and collective, which has been analysed in depth in social philosophy, and described in a particularly precise and meaningful way by John Searle, and which can serve as a key to understanding social life and as a foundation for an ontology of this domain of discourse. The concept of intentionality is closely related to the one of representations, which is used in the social sciences to analyse the construction of the identity of individuals and their understanding of their role as social subjects.

Finally, in a third step, the core classes of an extension of the CIDOC CRM for social life will be presented, with a discussion of their relation to some relevant classes in CRMbase. The talk will also show how this high level model can be specialised to deal with different topics such as people’s roles in society, membership in organisations, laws and their applications, object classifications and the projects of individuals and groups, i.e. relevant aspects of social life. This endeavour is implemented and documented in This web application was developed in order to allow different projects to participate in the discussion of the shared conceptualisation and to align their own models, or add more specific extensions according to the needs of their research agenda.

References relevant namespaces:


Álvarez Bermúdez, J. et al., « Identities, Memory and the Construction of Citizenship », Papers on Social Representations 28, no. 2 (2019).

Gallotti M. et al. (eds.), Perspectives on Social Ontology and Social Cognition, Dordrecht, Springer Netherlands, 2014.

Gangemi A. et al.,« From collective intentionality to intentional collectives: An ontological perspective », Cogn. Syst. Res. 7, no 2‑3 (2006): 192‑208.

Gangemi A. et al., « Norms and plans as unification criteria for social collectives. », Auton. Agents Multi Agent Syst. 17, no 1 (2008): 70‑112.

Sammut G. et al. (eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Social Representations, Cambridge, University Press, 2015.

Searle J., Making the Social World: The Structure of Human Civilization, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2010.

Zalta E. N. (ed.) , The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2021 Edition, ) (especially entries: Collective Intentionality, Mental Representation, Consciousness and Intentionality, Social Norms, etc.)

Thomas T. (ed.), Encyclopedia of critical psychology, New York, Springer Reference, 2014) (especially entries: Interobjectivity; Social Constructionism; Social Representations; Socialization).

Lecture within the Data for History Lectures series
Time: Wednesday, 18 May 2022, 4.15-5.45 pm
Place: via Zoom – Request access via email (

Cite this article as:
digitalhistory: Francesco Beretta: Modelling Social Life: an Extension of CIDOC CRM, in: Digital History Berlin (Blog), erschienen am: 16. Mai 2022, Internet:

Beitragsbild: Coronation of George IV, 19 July 1821 (public domain),

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