The act of producing credible numbers is often a complicated process, one that may require many resources, a disciplined staff, standardized methods, and careful coordination. People often fail to appreciate how difficult it is, or how much infrastructure is required, to make numbers. Of course, motives for producing numbers vary depending on their historical contexts; they may be used to inform states about their citizens, police workers, reduce conflict, or communicate across social or physical distances. Whatever the motivations are, the effects of numbers are hard to contain and they often spill over into other uses. People may change how they think about themselves or others, change how they conduct economic life or politics, or devise ingenious gaming strategies in an effort to manage appearances. Once a number has been produced, others may find uses for it that its creators never considered. And because numbers reduce and integrate information, they travel easily across cultural or political boundaries that might limit other forms of information.
Our workshop will examine the motives for making numbers, why some numbers are successful and others fail to catch on, the kinds of authority we attribute to numbers, their effects on different groups, and how and why they spread. We will pay particular attention to who has the authority to create numbers and how numbers are made.
Lorraine J. Daston
Direktorin des Max-Planck-Instituts für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Professorin, Committee on Social Thought