Respect for Numbers

Lively Forms and Accountable Engaging in Multiple Registers of STS

  • Catelijne Coopmans


This paper explores an episode of numbers appearing on a screen and being read/spoken, looked at and received as numbers, by people who work together to achieve a particular goal. The events happened in Singapore, in 2012-2013, as part of periodic reporting on diabetic retinopathy screening in the context of efforts to innovate such screening. I tell of two parties at odds over how to engage numbers accountably. This question of ‘engagement’, of what can and should be done with numbers to secure their participation in organizational affairs, is worked out in how numerical forms are performed and sustained as working numbers. Using three STS analytics to analyse the episode – Helen Verran’s (2001) work on number as a relation of unity/plurality, John Law’s (1994) work on modes of ordering, and Steve Woolgar and Daniel Neyland’s (2013) work on mundaneity and accountability – I argue that numbers are brought to life in very different ways, each mobilizing a certain recognition of what numbers are and what it takes to respect this. In the conclusion, I comment on the article’s use and juxtaposition of these STS analytics, using the metaphor of a kaleidoscope.