CALL FOR PAPERS: Special Issue On Numbering, Numbers And After Numbers: Doing & Undoing Calculative Practices


Numbers matter in science, technology and in myriad further fields. Relating to the ubiquitous presence of numbers and numbering, STS has been developing and drawing on a range of analytics in generative studies of numbers and numbering (e.g. Lave 1988, Porter 1995, Verran 2001). Among recent innovations in STS analytics of numbers and numbering, four lines of work recruit a dynamics of referencing and application: H. Verran’s investigations of numbering and enumerated entities, K. Asdal’s approach to studying the relation between (non-)use of numbers and authority, the conversations between F. Cochoy, M. Callon and J. Law on the intersection of quantification and qualification and the analytical promise of the neologist term qualculation, and the study of valuation in the context of C.F. Helgesson and F. Muniesa's Valuation Studies that involves engaging how quantifying values and how valuing something relates to numbering it. This special issue invites contributors to apply and scrutinise, rather than “merely” apply, such recent analytic innovations through empirical engagement. By this we hope to foreground how analysing numbering, interrogating enumerated entities, and revealing calculations and their intersections with qualifications, separately and together contribute to STS scholarship.

With this interest, this special issue asks, for example, how quantities and qualities are done, secured, audited; in short we ask how numbering predicates realities. We seek a focussed form of wonder at how the enactment of realities is configured with imaginaries of, and the dichotomy between, qualities and quantities; what kind of certainty is achieved, and how, in doing the “quality” or “quantity” of an entity; and how material and semiotic practices of “qualifying” and “quantifying” presuppose, oppose each other, and/or overlap. While this SI opens up how numbers are done we also want to attend to how they are undone. This implies an interest in addressing how qualities and quantities can be, or even need to be, differently done or undone to do realities “better”. By that we open up an empirical exploration of the ‘space of practices’ in which numbers are done, whilst paying as much attention to what happens at the borders of the do-ability of numbering. Thus, this SI raises questions of how realities are achieved once numbering meets its limits, what happens in the doing and undoing of numbers, calculations and their interwoven qualifications once practices find themselves beyond numbers – “after numbers?”. Empirically, this SI seeks to address such STS approaches to analysing numbering, calculative realities and entities across multiple empirical fields, inviting contributions in (but not limited too) the social studies of science, technology, medicine, politics, markets, business, state administration and education.

We envisage a focus on ethnographically or historiographically informed work that details and questions the analytical use-ability of (not exclusively, but with emphases on) the following four lines of STS work – which we shall briefly sketch. We are not prescribing these as analytic frameworks, but ask writers mobilising alternative approaches to link their analytic to one or more of these four framings, which we identify as currently emergent within STS.

• Helen Verran's work sets out from studies of mathematics training in a post-colonial setting, initially developing relativist accounts of different ways of doing numbers and logical reasoning (Watson 1990). Puzzled about what the relativist take explains away, she delves into being disconcerted about the moments that did not fit the neat relativist story (Verran 1999), resulting in Science and an African Logic (2001). Since then, this line takes on numbers and numbering in the enactment of new policy-worlds, particularly in the case of so-called ecosystem services (e.g. 2013). This work (particularly in its extension into policy studies) may be located in the analytic tradition of understanding and discussing formalising work not in terms of formalisms, but praxeographically. For the case of numbers and deductive reasoning in mathematics, Latour (2008) discusses this, for instance, through Netz's study The Shaping of Deduction in Greek Mathematics (2003).

• Kristin Asdal's engagement with numbers turned highly visible in her work on turning pollution into (ac)countable emissions (2008), the situated achievement of authority with and against numbers (2011) and positioning numbers in doing macroeconomics (2014). At the foreground of this line of work is to study how politico-administrative are enacted and shaped through the calculative work invested in them. In that respect, her work draws on and contributes to the analytic tradition emerging in Foucault's lectures on govermentality (1991) and developed by Rose's study of the politics of numbers (1999). At the same time, her work may be located in relation to constructivist accounting studies such as Hopwood's discussion of accounting as constitutive, reflective and performative (1987) or, more close to STS accounts, Desrosières' The Politics of Large Numbers: A History of Statistical Reasoning (1998).

• The conversation about qualculation between Michel Callon and John Law (2005) focuses on the possibility of calculations, how calculabilities and incalculabilities are achieved. They mobilise (and shift) Cochoy's (2002) neologism qualculation to underline that calculating implies or necessitates qualifying the entities thrown into the calculation. Cochoy himself draws onto STS engagements with markets (Callon 1998). However, while Callon and Law's engagement problematises how analytically apt it is to project the dichotomy between quantity and quality or quantification and qualification onto practices called either, Cochoy leaves this dichotomy intact. Cochoy (2008) makes explicit that for him qualculation is required subsequent to the “cold”, “rational” calculations of supermarket arithmetics (for which he relates to Lave et al's work (1984)); his notion of qualculation refers to qualitative decision-making practices and their devices.

• The emerging area of Valuation Studies foregrounds an analytical engagement with the doing of values and of valuation as a social practice (Helgesson and Muniesa 2013). Often enough, valuation practices involve numbers and the turning-into-numbers of values renders entities available to quantitative commensuration practices (e.g. Espeland and Stevens 1998). So it happens that in practices that evaluate something, valuing or pricing it, quantification or often deeply (con)figuring and producing the values and price while socio-material, historical and political contingencies of the value or price are carefully concealed.
With these four lines we invite potential contributors to the SI to work on ‘dual-folded’ projects. First, we are looking for studies that address and interrogate the doing of numbers and enumerated entities in situated and always also political practice, e.g. numbering and calculation, and/or to explicate the achievement of central dichotomies in the discourse of numbers, such as quality vs quantity. Second, we expect these studies to discuss the analytical possibilities and limits configured with or through recent innovations in STS analytics of numbers, i.e. to investigate such innovations for their inter- and intra-analytical convergences, differences, harmonies and contradictions.

If you are interested, please submit your paper by 31 December 2015. However, we strongly encourage authors to contact us with an expression of interest as soon as possible or to submit their paper earlier. Manuscripts should be prepared according to the journal guidelines for authors ( and will be peer reviewed following the journal’s normal review process and criteria. For further information and submissions please contact the Ingmar Lippert at

Guest editors
Ingmar Lippert (IT University of Copenhagen) and Helen Verran (University of Melbourne)

Asdal, K. 2008. Enacting things through numbers: Taking nature into account/ing. Geoforum 39 (1), 123–132.
Asdal, K. 2011. The office: The weakness of numbers and the production of non-authority. Accounting, Organizations and Society 36 (1), 1–9.
Asdal, K. 2014. From Climate Issue to Oil Issue: Offices of Public Administration, Versions of Economics, and the Ordinary Technologies of Politics. Environment and Planning A 46(9): 2110-2124.
Callon, M. 1998. Introduction: The Embeddedness of Economic Markets in Economics. In M. Callon (ed.) The Laws of the Markets (Blackwell/Sociological Review, Oxford), 2–57.
Callon, M. and J. Law 2005. On qualculation, agency, and otherness. Environment and Planning D 23 (5), 717–733.
Cochoy F. 2002. Une Sociologie du Packaging ou l'Âene de Buridan Face au Marché [A sociology of packaging, or Buridan's ass in the face of the market] (Presses Universitaires de France, Paris).
Désrosières A. 1998. The Politics of Large Numbers: A History of Statistical Reasoning (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA).
Espeland, W. and M. Stevens 1998. Commensuration as a social process. Annual Review of Sociology 24(1), 313–343.
Foucault, M. 1991. Governmentality. In: Burchell, G., Gordon, C., Miller, P. (Eds.), The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality (University of Chicago Press, Chicago), 87–118.
Helgesson, C-F and F. Muniesa 2013. For What It’s Worth: An Introduction to Valuation Studies. Valuation Studies 1(1): 1–10.
Hopwood, A. G. 1987. The archaeology of accounting systems. Accounting, Organizations and Society 12(3) 207–234.
Lave, J., Murtaugh, M. and de la Rocha, O. 1984. The Dialectic of Arithmetic in Grocery Shopping. In B. Rogoff and J. Lave (eds) Everyday Cognition: Its Development in Social Context (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA), 67–94.
Lave, J. 1988. Cognition in practice: Mind, mathematics and culture in everyday life (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge).
Latour, B. 2008. The Netz‐works of Greek deductions. Social Studies of Science 38(3), 441–459.
Netz, R. 2003. The Shaping of Deduction in Greek Mathematics: A Study in Cognitive History (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge).
Porter, T. 1995. Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life (Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey).
Rose, N. 1999. Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge).
Verran, H. 1999. Staying true to the laughter in nigerian classrooms. In Law and Hassard Actor Network Theory and after (Blackwell/Sociological Review, Oxford), 136–155.
Verran, H. 2001. Science and an African Logic (University of Chicago Press, Chicago).
Verran, H. 2013. Numbers performing nature in quantitative valuing. NatureCulture 2, 23–37.
Watson, H., 1990. Investigating the social foundations of mathematics: natural number in culturally diverse forms of life. Social Studies of Science 20 (2), 283–312.