Made to measure: measurement, anthropology and the enlightenment
Alice Street (University of Edinburgh)
Jamie Cross (University of Edinburgh)
Steven Shapin
Quincentenary Building, Wolfson Hall B
Start time:
20 June, 2014 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

The continued legacy of enlightenment ideas of measurement, rationality and progress, the materiality of measurement, and the relationship between local and universal systems of measure.

Long abstract:

Enlightenment science gave rise to new systems and techniques of measurement that were championed as impartial and progressive, free of irrationality and superstition. Such ideas transformed economic governance, public health, environmental science, and industrial labour, focusing human ingenuity on the invention of new devices for measuring medicine, weather, time, and profit. Today, the idea that all aspects of the world, from the economy to the body, can be quantified and measured could be said to be one of the Enlightenment's most powerful and lasting effects. Whether in relation to quantifying the impact of international development, determining public spending on life-saving medicines, or evaluating climate change science, debates around how to measure are a platform for the generation of new kinds of knowledge, expertise and politics. We often think of measurement as disembodied. This panel will focus, by contrast, on the materiality of measurement. From an app that enables the tracking and sharing of data about the quantified self to a plastic wristband that estimates the body weight of malnourished children, this panel asks how measures are made and how they work on and transform the world around them. Papers will explore relationships between measurement and the universal aspirations of colonial rule, modern science and global commerce. But we are also interested in the ways in which lives continue to be lived amidst multiple overlapping and contradictory modes of measurement. Are things always measured in the same ways in different places and where and to whom does this matter?