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A Sociology of Quantification*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 December 2008

Wendy Nelson Espeland
Department of Sociology, Northwestern University []
Mitchell L. Stevens
Stanford University [].
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One of the most notable political developments of the last thirty years has been increasing public and governmental demand for the quantification of social phenomena, yet sociologists generally have paid little attention to the spread of quantification or the significance of new regimes of measurement. Our article addresses this oversight by analyzing quantification – the production and communication of numbers – as a general sociological phenomenon. Drawing on scholarship across the social sciences in Europe and North America as well as humanistic inquiry, we articulate five sociological dimensions of quantification and call for an ethics of numbers.


Une des plus notables nouveautés politiques des trente dernières années a été l'augmentation de la demande de quantification des phénomènes sociaux de la part tant du public que des gouvernements. Les sociologues n'y ont guère vu un phénomène social général. En s'appuyant sur les acquis des sciences sociales tant américains qu'européens et aussi sur la recherche dans les humanités, l'article dégage cinq aspects de la quantification : le travail de base requis, la réactivité, le pouvoir normatif, l'autorité multiusages qu'elle dégage et enfin la puissance dans l'ordre esthétique.


Eine der bedeutendsten politischen Neuerungen der letzten 30 Jahre ist die steigende Nachfrage nach der Quantifizierung sozialer Bewegungen und dies sowohl von seiten der Öffentlichkeit als auch der Regierungen. Die Soziologen haben dies nicht als allgemeines soziales Phänomen betrachtet. Aufbauend auf den Erfahrungen der amerikanischen und europäischen Sozial- und Humanwissenschaften, zeigt der Aufsatz fünf Aspekte der Quantifizierung: Arbeitsaufwand, Reaktivität, normative Macht, ”Mehrzweck“-Autorität und die Macht der Esthetik.

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Copyright © A.E.S. 2008

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