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This open access book offers unique insight into how and where ideas and instruments of quantification have been adopted, and how they have come to matter. Rather than asking what quantification is, New Politics of Numbers explores what quantification does, its manifold consequences in multiple domains. It scrutinizes the power of numbers in terms of the changing relations between numbers and democracy, the politics of evidence, and dreams and schemes of bettering society. The book engages Foucault inspired studies of quantification and the economics of convention in a critical dialogue. In so doing, it provides a rich account of the plurality of possible ways in which numbers have come to govern, highlighting not only their disciplinary effects, but also the collective mobilization capacities quantification can offer. This book will be invaluable reading for academics and graduate students in a wide variety of disciplines, as well as policymakers interested in the opportunities and pitfalls of governance by numbers.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Open Access

Chapter 1. The New Politics of Numbers: An Introduction

Abstract
This chapter sets out what is “new” in the politics of numbers and this volume’s approach to their study. Rather than asking what quantification is, this volume is interested in describing and analysing what quantification does, tracking and unpacking various quantification practices and their manifold consequences in different domains. The book revisits the power of numbers, and examines changing relations between numbers and democracy. It engages, for the first time, Foucault inspired studies of quantification and the economics of convention in a critical dialogue. In so doing, the volume seeks to account more systematically for the plurality of the possible ways in which numbers can come to govern, highlighting not only disciplinary effects but also the collective mobilization capacities quantification can offer.
Andrea Mennicken, Robert Salais

Quantification as Utopia

Frontmatter

Open Access

Chapter 2. Creating a Socialist Society and Quantification in the USSR

Abstract
When it came to power, the Bolshevik government based the legitimacy of its action on the scientific nature of its decisions, figures being a core element. Political decisions were to be based on science, for the well-being of everyone and the fulfilment of the communist plan to create a new society and human being. Statistics, an information and decision-support tool, became now also an instrument of power to prove the soundness of state action. This raised severe tensions and repression, between statisticians following recommendations of international statistics congresses, and the new government. For the duty of statisticians was to formulate a new theory of statistics and new methods and tools. Characterizing some of these, the chapter carves out the specific nature of the Soviet Union.
Martine Mespoulet

Open Access

Chapter 3. The People’s Algorithms: Social Credits and the Rise of China’s Big (Br)other

Abstract
Around the turn of the twentieth century, Chinese intellectuals and political leaders dreamed of a modern nation inhabited by politically aware citizens. For them, this involved the production and circulation of social facts enabling citizens to make sound judgements. This theory of making citizens continued in the socialist era (1949–1978). Yet, it has changed profoundly with the advance of state-guided neoliberalism. Instead of creating enlightened citizens, the new paradigm of governance aims at producing an ecology in which citizens are expected to align their desires and aspirations with the state-sanctioned social order. Focusing on China’s emerging social credit system, this essay illustrates how central planning and neoliberal belief have come together to construct a new social and economic order using numbers, algorithms and credit rating.
Tong Lam

Open Access

Chapter 4. Accounting for Who We Are and Could Be: Inventing Taxonomies of the Self in an Age of Uncertainty

Abstract
Self-trackers are confronted with economic and cultural uncertainty as two fundamental traits of late-modern capitalism. Coping with uncertainty in this context means the calculative quest for discovering the representational forms by which the plurality of individual capabilities as well as the plurality of the cultural forms of living can be inscribed into common registers of worth. Drawing on Foucault as well as the Sociology of Critique, this paper emphasizes the moral and cognitive conflicts accompanying the emergence of self-quantification and points to the contradictions and ambivalences this involves: self-inspection as a form of enabling accounting and emancipation, on the one hand, versus an extension of instrumental rationality to hitherto incommensurable and incalculable entities, on the other.
Uwe Vormbusch

Open Access

Chapter 5. Quantifying Inequality: From Contentious Politics to the Dream of an Indifferent Power

Abstract
The historical meaning of inequality as a bond of domination and subjection at the centre of the vertical political architecture of modernity has been replaced by reference to quantitatively expressed distributive differences. This paper examines the role of the poverty threshold in reconfiguring the welfare field and establishing a binary syntax; the spread of spatial artefacts inscribing unequal positions into space through separation; and numbers that provide the language for measuring the distance between positions. Quantification matters in instrumental and expressive terms: together with tools for knowledge and action, it also provides visions. Further, the vision expressed in the quantified distance that frames inequality corresponds to the dream of a domination free from any bond with the dominated, being cognitively and morally indifferent to it.
Ota De Leonardis

The Politics of Evidence

Frontmatter

Open Access

Chapter 6. Homo Statisticus: A History of France’s General Public Statistical Infrastructure on Population Since 1950

Abstract
Changes of public statistical infrastructure on population shed light on the transformation of views of quantification from France’s post-war boom to recent years. Witnessing a crisis of totalization as well as a neoliberal inflection, this classic tool of quantification has been profoundly transformed, as much in its themes and technical characteristics as in the questions it poses and categories it retains. Three models progressively overlap one another: the “representative household survey”, the “biographical investigation”, and the “matched panel”. From these models emerge three types of being that the different statistical infrastructures address—the homo statisticus they contribute to defining—herein called subject, person, and individual, in reference to the three pillars of Alain Supiot’s “homo juridicus”.
Thomas Amossé

Open Access

Chapter 7. A New Calculable Global World in the Making: Governing Through Transnational Certification Standards

Abstract
Governing with quantification rests on preliminary processes of transforming the world to make it quantifiable through conventions of formatting and equivalence-making. This chapter investigates a new globalized mode of governing, operating, away from states, through voluntary certification standards. Considering the case of sustainable palm oil certification, it follows the most vulnerable “stakeholders”, from their daily life in remote rural areas to the governing public roundtables and private confidential negotiations. Fostering the dialogue between the extended convention theory framework and governmentality studies, the chapter shows that in a new kind of “standardizing liberalism” [libéralisme normalisateur], “governing by standards” shifts the political debate about power, legitimacy and the common good onto measurable certifiable characteristics of goods and services to be chosen by autonomous opting individuals.
Laurent Thévenot

Open Access

Chapter 8. Do Performance Indicators Improve the Effectiveness of Development Aid?

Abstract
Inspired by benchmarking techniques, performance indicators have now become essential criteria for measuring the effectiveness of public policies, based on quantitative objectives, in the context of Results Based Management (RBM). They are increasingly used by international donors to guide the delivery of aid to Third World countries. This article attempts to highlight the role of these performance indicators in disrupting public policies in Africa. It highlights their perverse effects, re-examines the meaning of indicator-based management, and rests on the question of the autonomy of countries receiving aid in the conduct of their public policies.
Ousmane Oumarou Sidibé

Open Access

Chapter 9. Archaeology of a Quantification Device: Quantification, Policies and Politics in French Higher Education

Abstract
This paper follows a quantification device – French higher education performance indicators – from its birth through its construction to its uses. It differentiates three levels of analysis. First, the bedrock level: a calculative device is grounded in a founding vision. Second, the intermediate level: a quantification device contains a conception of the “raisons d’être” of the entity that is quantified. Third, the level of the micro-conventions of calculation which can give a particular orientation. However, the device is part of a larger configuration which constitutes the fourth dimension of our analytical grid. Levels and context are the fruit of socio-historical processes which can, but must not, lead to maximum coherence. Here, the device is not a very integrated assemblage, which explains its limited effects.
Corine Eyraud

Voicing for Democracy

Frontmatter

Open Access

Chapter 10. Quantification = Economization? Numbers, Ratings and Rankings in the Prison Service of England and Wales

Abstract
This paper uses the case of prison privatization in England and Wales to scrutinize what it means to “economize the social” through numbers. It argues that we ought to be careful not to equate quantification with economization. To uncover the multiple effects of economization and quantification brought about by new public management reforms and prison privatization, one needs to set presumed dichotomies between the public and the private aside and turn instead to the multiplicity of economizing practices (curtailing, marketizing, financializing) and their implication in different forms of quantification. Ironically, numbers and state contracts governing privately managed prisons also shielded these establishments from economization (e.g. budgetary savings requests); and it is the public prisons that have been exposed the most to measures of government austerity.
Andrei Guter-Sandu, Andrea Mennicken

Open Access

Chapter 11. The Shifting Legitimacies of Price Measurements: Official Statistics and the Quantification of Pwofitasyon in the 2009 Social Struggle in Guadeloupe

Abstract
In 2009, Guadeloupe experienced a historic 44 day-long strike against the high cost of living. The union-led collective (LKP) leading the strike used calculations and figures as a weapon to prove that players holding dominant market positions captured undue profits (“pwofitasyon”). Also, official price indexes were subjected to radical political criticism by the LKP actors. Yet, by using averages, these calculations could not account for the existence of individual abusive prices. The “statactivistic” momentum resulted in a shift of the legitimate price measurement methods. Calculation was, however, also the collective’s Achilles heel. LKP members’ use of numbers established only a temporary favourable balance of power in the negotiations. It was not enough for them to compete with the state’s calculative skills on an equal basis.
Boris Samuel

Open Access

Chapter 12. “La donnée n’est pas un donné”: Statistics, Quantification and Democratic Choice

Abstract
This article investigates the transformation of employment policies in France, Germany, the UK and at European level, problematizing their shift towards governance-driven quantification, which has at its core the quest for efficiency putting equivalence between more and better, and having more for less. Numbers become both targets and evaluators leading to rational optimization of the data produced. This calls democracy into question. Citizens have no say in how they are accounted for. Employment takes on a very different meaning encompassing any job, regardless of wage, working conditions, or contract type. Social criticism movements face the task to produce alternative data relying on democratized procedures and justice expectations. Such data, capable of legitimately counteracting governance-driven quantification, would support another “understanding” of the collective issue at hand.
Robert Salais

Open Access

Chapter 13. Free from Numbers? The Politics of Qualitative Sociology in the U.S. Since 1945

Abstract
In a world that is said to be more and more filled with quantities, this paper focuses on the practices and reasons of people refusing quantities; people who want to purify their world from numbers. It uses the history of qualitative sociology as an example and shows how actors refused the quantitative for political or ethical reasons. But they opposed only a certain set of qualitative methods—especially the statistical survey—, which they associated with certain political “demons” (the State, the Army, Bureaucracy), but not the quantitative in general. On the contrary, even qualitative sociologists who opposed surveys did make room for other ways of using numbers, which are very different, often very original and surprising (including social studies of data, data gleanings, conceptual canvasing).
Emmanuel Didier

Open Access

Chapter 14. Afterword: Quantifying, Mediating and Intervening: The R Number and the Politics of Health in the Twenty-First Century

Abstract
This essay discusses the unassailable power and popularity that numbers have come to assume during the COVID-19 pandemic. Epidemiological statistics have come to play a remarkable and public role, regulating our lives, while shaping and justifying political decisions. This essay traces the emergence of one particular number, the “R” number or reproduction number in multiple and dispersed sites, drawing attention to the bifurcation of demography and epidemiology in its emergence. It examines how and why the R number came to act as a crucial mediating instrument during the pandemic, linking the health and well-being of the population with the health of the economy and supporting arguments both in favour of and against restrictions of various kinds.
Peter Miller

Backmatter

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