The World of Indicators. The making of governmental knowledge through quantification

Richard Rottenburg, Sally Engle Merry, Sung-Joon Park, Johanna Mugler (eds.)

Cambridge University Press: Cambridge and New York

Year of publication



The twenty-first century has seen a further dramatic increase in the use of quantitative knowledge for governing social life after its explosion in the 1980s. Indicators and rankings play an increasing role in the way governmental and non-governmental organizations distribute attention, make decisions, and allocate scarce resources. Quantitative knowledge promises to be more objective and straightforward as well as more transparent and open for public debate than qualitative knowledge, thus producing more democratic decision-making. However, we know little about the social processes through which this knowledge is constituted nor its effects. Understanding how such numeric knowledge is produced and used is increasingly important as proliferating technologies of quantification alter modes of knowing in subtle and often unrecognized ways. This book explores the implications of the global multiplication of indicators as a specific technology of numeric knowledge production used in governance. Combination of insights from anthropology of law, history of science, science and technology studies, sociology of quantification, economics and geography will appeal to those who are uncomfortable with the separation between 'theoretical' and 'empirical' approaches and with the current weakness of critique that address the main trends shaping the relations between capitalism, markets, law and democracy. Theoretical discussion of the nature and historical formation of quantification will appeal to those who ask questions such as, 'What is new or different about our contemporary reliance on quantitative knowledge?' Groundbreaking empirical case studies uncover the social work and politics that often go into the making of indicators and explore the far-reaching effects and impacts of these numerical representations in specific settings.

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