Message posted on 27/11/2023

Call for papers - Workshop Micropolitics of measurement - June 2024

Dear colleagues,

Please find below (and attached) a call for papers for the workshop “Micropolitics of measurement” that will be held in Paris on the 21st of June, 2024. This workshop is supported by the Society for the Social Studies of Quantification.

Call for the Workshop “Micropolitics of Measurement”

Workshop organized in Paris, June, 21, 2024 (ENS)

Since the 1990s, the field of Social Studies of Quantification (SSQ) has emerged as an interdisciplinary nexus, probing the pervasive influence of numbers across societal domains. This scholarly pursuit, featuring seminal works (Desrosières 1998, Hopwood and Miller 1994, Porter 1995, Espeland and Stevens 1998), spans an array of numerically framed artifacts, from official statistics to financial indices, and ventures into the digital era's personal metrics (Hirschman and Berman 2018, Mennicken and Espeland 2019, Mennicken and Salais, 2022). Yet, within this expanse, the pivotal process of measurement itself—the conversion of the abstract to the quantifiable—has garnered less spotlight.

Our approach seeks to enhance SSQ by spotlighting this overlooked yet critical phase: the micropolitics of measurement. We propose to move beyond the traditional segmentation of the number’s life cycle—namely, the establishment of conventions and the use of numbers—focusing instead on the relatively neglected juncture of these processes, which has been buried in the routine of practitioners. This phase of the quantification process, often unnoticed, involves intricate activities that elevate raw data to authoritative figures, a journey that is as political as it is technical.

Drawing on Infrastructure Studies (Star and Ruhleder 1996, Bowker 1996, Star 1999, Edwards, 2010; Edwards et al. 2011), and Data Studies (Borgman, 2015; Bates et al., 2016; Ebeling, 2016; Leonelli, 2016; Denis and Goëta, 2017; Leonelli and Tempini, 2020), three research axes guide our inquiry:

  1. The Measure as a pivotal junction: We suggest measurement is the pivotal yet missing piece in the trajectory of numbers. It encapsulates the translation of empirical reality into quantifiable constructs, a process teeming with implicit choices and political underpinnings.

  2. Bridging Socio-History and Measurement: In the socio-historical realm, we revisit the classical dyad of convention and measurement. Rather than treating them as distinct, we explore their interconnectedness and the degree to which they inform one another, thus enriching the tapestry of SSQ with questions of creation and continuity.

  3. Anticipating the Impact of Usage: Recognizing that measurement is situated upstream in the trajectory of numbers, we also glimpse the foreshadowed questions of usage. Our perspective preemptively engages with how numbers, once measured, exert influence and shape actions within their subsequent domains of application.

Through this refined lens, the micropolitics of measurement invites a robust interrogation of data’s genesis, flow, categorization, and the resultant societal perceptions. It urges us to consider how data authority is established and the ensuing tensions within categorical confines. Moreover, it challenges us to scrutinize how practitioners mediate these intricacies during the measurement act. These explorations form the basis for a deeper understanding of the embedded politics within SSQ, heralding a new chapter of research in this dynamic field.

The expected communications will be based on a rich empirical material, and may address but are not limited to the following questions:

· What processes give rise to data?

· Through what channels does data traverse and exchange hands?

· In what ways are the complexities of the world distilled into defined categories?

· What role do measurement practices play in crafting our perceptions of reality?

· How do numerical figures acquire their authoritative stance, and in whose eyes? What lends credence to these figures during the measurement process?

· In what manner do the rigors of measurement strain or reaffirm the integrity of established categories?

· How do practitioners within the measurement domain navigate the inherent tensions and resolve the conflicts that arise from their activities?

Practical information

The workshop will take place in Paris, June, 21, 2024. Participants commit to presenting unpublished research and to sending a full paper to the organizers one month before the workshop. Presentations will be held in English.

Proposals should be about 1000 words. We expect them to demonstrate the connection with the three aforementioned axes and also provide an explanation of the empirical fieldwork. The proposals should be sent to, and by January 15, 2024, by specifying in the title [Workshop Micropolitics of Measurement].

Limited funds are available to cover for travel and accommodation expenses if needed. To apply for such a grant, please provide a one-paragraph statement detailing your request for financial support.

Organizing committee

Camille Beaurepaire (CMH, ENS-EHESS)

Quentin Dufour (CMH, ENS-EHESS)

Siyu Li (Irasia, Université Aix-Marseille)


Bates, J., Lin, Y.-W., & Goodale, P. (2016). Data journeys: Capturing the socio-material constitution of data objects and flows. Big Data & Society, 3(2).

Berman, E., Hirschman, D., (2018). The Sociology of Quantification: Where Are We Now?. Contemporary Sociology, 47(3), 257-266.

Borgman, C., (2015). Big Data, Little Data, No Data. Scholarship in the Networked World. The MIT Press.

Bowker, G. (1996). The history of information infrastructures: the case of the international classification of diseases. Information Processing and Management, 32(1) 42-61.

Denis, J., & Goëta, S. (2017). Rawification and the careful generation of open government data. Social studies of science, 47(5), 604–629.

Desrosières, A. (1998). The politics of large numbers: a history of statistical reasonning, Cambridge. Harvard University Press.

Ebeling, M. F. E. (2016). Healthcare and Big Data: Digital Specters and Phantom Objects. Palgrave Macmillan US.

Edwards, P. (2010). A vast machine: Computer models, Climate data, and the politics of global warming. The MIT Press.

Edwards, P. N., Mayernik, M. S., Batcheller, A. L., Bowker, G. C., & Borgman, C. L. (2011). Science friction: Data, metadata, and collaboration. Social Studies of Science, 41(5), 667-690. 10.1177/0306312711413314

Espeland, W., & Stevens, M. 1998, Commensuration as social process. Annual Review of Sociology, 24(1), 313-343.

Hopwood, A., Miller, P. (1994). Accounting as social and institutional practice. Cambridge University Press.

Leonelli, S. (2016). Data-Centric Biology. A Philosophical Study. The University of Chicago Press.

Leonelli, S., & Tempini, N. (Eds.). (2020). Data journeys in the sciences. Springer International Publishing.

Mennicken, A., & Espeland, W., (2019). What’s New with Numbers? Sociological Approaches to the Study of Quantification. Annual Review of Sociology, 45, 223-245.

Mennicken, A., Salais, R. (Ed) (2022). The new politics of numbers. Utopia, evidence and democracy. Palgrave Macmillan.

Porter, T. (1995). Trust in numbers. The pursuit of objectivity in science and public life. Princeton University Press.

Star, S. L. (1999). The Ethnography of Infrastructure. American Behavioral Scientist, 43(3), 377-391.





Star, S. L., & Ruhleder, K. (1996). Steps Toward an Ecology of Infrastructure: Design and Access for Large Information Spaces. Information Systems Research, 7(1),111-134.

-- Quentin Dufour Post-Doctorant en sociologie au CMH Responsable de la chaire QUALIDATA - ENS Membre de l'ISNS - Paris Santé Campus +33 6 68 30 10 59

Centre Maurice Halbwachs École Normale Supérieure - EHESS 48 Bd Jourdan 75014 Paris

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