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Kate Hennessy


March 21, 2012

AAA 2012: CFP–“Mediating Numbers: Representations of Data, Measurement, and Assessment Across Borders”

March 21, 2012 | By |

Call for Papers

American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, San Francisco, November 2012

Panel Title: “Mediating Numbers: Representations of Data, Measurement, and Assessment Across Borders”

Organizers: Damien Stankiewicz (Temple University) and Rebecca Howes-Mischel (New York University)

Numbers are today a ubiquitous medium for the representation of global realities, likely because they are understood to move across boundaries and borders in stable and “objectively” verifiable ways (Ong and Collier 2005). They seem able to “translate” the messiness of qualitative, local, and individual events into quantitative, mobile, and comparable measures. Economic indices; UN data on refugees; comparisons of radiation in Japan and Chernobyl; households with internet; average age of retirement; “happiness scales”; rankings of access to health care; child mortality-these are the numbers that order communities, nations and a world across mass media, governmental institutions, and people’s everyday lives.

This panel, about the mediation of numbers and the numbers of media, seeks to set science studies and media studies into generative conversation: How can approaches developed by anthropologists of law, science, and technology help us to understand media and mediation as claims about “objectivity”; reciprocally, how can the anthropology of media and mediation contribute to our understanding of quantitative assessments and data as narrative and representational? Working across these subdisciplines, we mean to ask both: what kind of media are numbers/data/statistics? And, how do media convey data?

In pursuing these parallel questions, this panel means to examine how quantitative and statistical measurements and assessments move across the borders and boundaries of different kinds of global scales, and how they help us to understand the uses and forms of numbers that travel. Data and statistics are powerful technologies of assessment and evaluation understood to map onto material realities that are abstract and thus, transcend culture-yet how do numbers and measurements, as these are generated by and for institutions and governments, change or take different forms as they move across and through national borders and boundaries? In what ways do they remain bordered or beholden to the national and local contexts in which they were generated? How do the social actors who produce these data, statistics, and indices understand them, like media, to be intended for particular “readings” or receptions? How are these numbers and data therefore anticipatory and performative? We mean to excavate the social relations and processes of production embedded in these mobile and mobilized data.

This panel hopes to bring together innovative scholars working across a variety of geographic regions who would like to think further about the intersection of measurement and mediation. Empirical objects might include television ratings; epidemiological statistics; corruption indices; indicators of economic behavior; or demands on digital bandwidth, inasmuch as these reveal the (in)stability, malleability, and performativity of numbers that mediate.

If you are interested in participating in this panel, please send an abstract of 250 words to Damien Stankiewicz at and/or Rebecca Howes-Mischel at by April 1st.

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