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Historicizing state quantification in disciplinary and control societies 
Luke Stark (Western University)
Melissa Adler (University of Western Ontario)
David Nemer (University of Virginia)
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Traditional Open Panel

Short Abstract:

Numerical techniques and technologies used to inscribe and circulate differences—racial, gendered, class, caste-based, and others—are everywhere in disciplinary and control societies. This panel interrogates the history of these quantitative mechanisms of power, and the ways they have been resisted.

Long Abstract:

Numerous thinkers (including Fanon, Foucault, Deleuze, Crenshaw, Hartman, Freire, and others) have theorized the ways in which the political arithmetic of the capitalist state and its agents has prompted the development of numerical techniques and technologies to inscribe and circulate differences—racial, gendered, class, caste-based, and others—about populations intended for exploitation and dispossession. In this panel, we aim to further interrogate the history of these quantitative, statistical, and inferential mechanisms of power.

From the Enlightenment calculation of early American enslavers to the contemporary deep learning transformations of artificial intelligence (AI) practitioners, and even the human infrastructures that transmit disinformation through messaging apps, numbers have never been neutral nor free from narrative. This panel will focus on the continuities in thinking and practice around the use of numbers as a tool of oppression across both space and time, and the often-nuanced strategies of resistance and cooption that progressive social movements have deployed in response.

Some of the questions we hope to see addressed by the panel include the following:

• How have historical discourses and ideologies of inequality, oppression, and supremacy prompted, shaped, and refined quantitative or technical metrics and mechanisms of scientific or social differentiation?

• How have the developers of these metrics and techniques drawn on transnational or global circuits of oppression?

• What are examples of such technical metrics and mechanisms being developed in an overtly oppressive context and then laundered more general scientific practice? How have professional fields such as medicine, statistics, and psychology grappled with or ignored these historical genealogies?

• How have people and communities targeted by such numerical mechanisms resisted, responded, refused, and coopted these technologies? What have been the results of such encounters, and what lessons can contemporary groups dedicated to opposing unfreedom take from these historical examples?

Accepted papers: