6.15%: Taking Numbers at Interface Value (2017-12-05)
This article discusses a number, 6.15%, as it comes into being in the course of an evaluation study of education in a southern Afghan province. This number indicates that out of 100 school-aged girls 6.15 go to school. While this kind of number may invite refl ections on its epistemic accuracy, more often it draws attention to its inherent negative — the girls that do not go to school — substantiating a need for sustained international commitment. As this article will show, numbers work to establish girls as research entities, as part of populations, and as a concern for the Afghan government and the international intervention. This interfacing work of numbers — between girls, states, interventions, and research protocols — is often absent from academic work that takes numbers to be stable and passive tools with which the world can be known. This article, instead, takes numbers to have an internally complex multiplicity and to actively engage with their environments. In this article, I use the interface between numbers and environment as a space for ethnographic exploration of world-making. By describing three moments in the lifecycle of the number — data cleaning, analysis and presentation — I describe three distinct moments of interfacing in which the number comes to act in three capacities: effecting reference, constituting proportional comparison, and evoking doubt and certainty. Detailed understanding of numbering practices provides an opportunity to not just critically assess numbers as end products but to carefully assess the worlds that emerge alongside numbering practices and the ways in which numbers contribute in processes of governance.
Making Nature Investable (2018-05-25)
In response to perceived valuation problems giving rise to global environmental crisis, ‘nature’ is being qualified, quantified and materialised as the new external(ised) ‘Nature-whole’ of ‘natural capital’. This paper problematises the increasing legibility, through numbering and (ac)counting practices, of natural capital as an apparently exterior ‘matter of fact’ that can be leveraged financially. Interconnected policy and technical texts, combined with observation as an academic participant in recent international environmental policy meetings, form the basis for a delineation of four connected and intensifying dimensions of articulation in fabricating ‘nature’ as ‘natural capital’: discursive, numerical-economic, material and institutional. Performative economic sociology approaches are drawn on to clarify the numbering and calculative practices making and performing indicators of nature health and harm as formally economic. These institutionalised fabrications are interpreted as attempts to enrol previously uncosted ‘standing natures’ in the forward-driving movement of capital.
More Than a Scientific Movement (2018-03-22)
The green chemistry (GC) concept originated in the United States during the 1990s to describe an approach to chemistry that aims to lower impacts on health and the environment. Based on 70 interviews with scientists from France and the United States, I investigated green chemists’ practices and motivations, and the socio-political influences on their attitudes to GC. The results show that GC has a hybrid character, bringing together scientists with different motivations (funding, career, communication, ethical, political). The boundaries of the definition of GC are constantly shifting under the influence of research funding and environmental, industrial and agricultural policies. GC reflects the perfect adaptation of a terminology to the external conditions of chemistry’s socio-political contexts. While this is a strength that gives GC the potential for changing overall practices in chemistry, this might also be its major weakness as it might completely lose its original environmental relevance, depending on the evolution of external drivers.
The One-Dimensionality of Scientific Relativism (2018-04-26)
The historicist approach to science has been accompanied by a spatial one in the last decade or two. Referring to the cultural origin of the fundamental standards, advocates of the “geographical turn” claim that “just as there is a rich history of science, so there is a rich geography of science” (Withers and Livingstone, 2011: 3). The emerging localism is perpendicular to the old historical segmentation and the combination of the two present science as a bunch of quasi-independent cognitive endeavours scattered in time and space.
Taking the debate about the existence of the N-ray as an instructive example, I argue that by developing location-independent disciplinary communities, history made the community-structure of science culturally unique. Different historical eras may use incompatible concepts, methodological norms, and epistemological standards, but as this diversity does not extend onto its synchronous dimension, relativism remains one-dimensional in science.
Lost in translation (2017-12-22)
This study explores the journey of a model for stakeholder involvement called RISCOM. Originally developed within the field of radioactive waste management in Sweden, it was later used in the Czech Republic to re-establish public dialogue in the process of siting a geological repository. This case offers an opportunity to empirically study the fragility and ambiguous results of organized spread of public involvement across various domains of technological innovation and national contexts. We show how three circumstances – (1) the ambition to make RISCOM an internationally used model for public dialogue, (2) the specific situation in the Czech siting process, and (3) the short-lived and limited success of the subsequent Czech dialogues by Swedish design – were intrinsically related and sustained each other. Better understanding of such complexities might contribute to a more realistic attitude toward technologized democracy, i.e., toward practices of public deliberation increasingly becoming instrumental, transferable, and depoliticized.