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 (2017-11-17)
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.
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.
Speaking for Nature: Hobbes, Latour, and the Democratic Representation of Nonhumans (2017-05-10)
Environmental theorists have often considered how best to represent nature's interests. This essay develops an approach to the democratic representation of nonhuman nature by examining the relation between Bruno Latour’s account of representation and that of Thomas Hobbes. Both Hobbes and Latour develop a constructivist theory of representation as an ongoing process that partly constitutes what it represents. In this respect, Latour’s account complements the “constructivist turn” in recent democratic theory, and it suggests a promising avenue for representing nonhumans. However, Latour also follows Hobbes in viewing representation as a matter of unifying and replacing the represented. This aspect of Latour’s approach obscures certain key features of representative democracy in pluralist societies. The last part of the essay takes up an aspect of Hobbes’s theory neglected by Latour, the notion of “representation by fiction,” which suggests a way of representing nonhumans that offers more support for representative democracy than other approaches
Diplomacy in Action: Latourian Politics and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2017-05-10)
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reviews scientific literature on climate change in an attempt to make scientific knowledge about climate change accessible to a wide audience that includes policymakers. Documents produced by the IPCC are subject to negotiations in plenary sessions, which can be frustrating for the scientists and government delegations involved, who all have stakes in getting their respective interests met. This paper draws on the work of Bruno Latour in order to formulate a so-called ‘diplomatic’ approach to knowledge assessment in global climate governance. Such an approach, we argue, helps to make climate governance more inclusive by helping to identify values of parties involved with the IPCC plenaries, and allowing those parties to recognize their mutual interests and perspectives on climate change. Drawing on observations during IPCC plenaries, this paper argues that a Latourian form of diplomacy can lead to more inclusive negotiations in climate governance
Scientific Performance Assessments Through a Gender Lens (2017-05-10)
The focus on excellence and quality assurance in the academy has spawned a significant increase in the use of bibliometric measures in performance assessments of individual researchers. This article investigates the organizational consequences of this development through a gender lens. Based on a qualitative case study of evaluation and selection practices at a Danish university, a number of potential gender biases related to the use of bibliometric performance measures are identified. By taking as default the research preferences, approaches and career paths of a succesful group of predominantly male scholars, evaluators using bibliometrics risk disadvantaging candidates diverging from the norm with implications for gender stratification. Despite these potential biases, bibliometric measures come to function as technologies supporting a managerial narrative of the gender-blind organization. They adhere to the prevailing ethos of the academic meritocracy by standardizing the criteria for organizational advancement and ensuring transparency and accountability in the selection process. While bibliometric tools in this sense may lead to the recruitment of scientists with a strong CV and track record, they may at the same time prevent many talented researchers diverging from the norm from being recognized and succeed as academics.
Making HPV vaccines efficient: Cost-Effectiveness Analysis and the Economic Assemblage of Healthcare in Colombia (2017-07-11)
Cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) is a strategy of calculation whose main objective is to compare for making decisions about the best, the most efficient solution (costs vs. benefits) to a particular problem. Cost-effectiveness analysis not only provides a framework to compare healthcare interventions which in practice seem incommensurable; it also performs a set of assumptions regarding the nature of healthcare and the behaviour of individuals. This article analyses the role of CEA as a device to produce value in the introduction of HPV vaccines in Colombia. In the different institutional pathways and decision-making scenarios cost-effectiveness has been the key issue that justified the inclusions and the exclusions that such technology entails. Cost-effectiveness has justified the definition of girls as the population target and the exclusion of boys from risks and benefits of this technology. Moreover, cost-effectiveness analysis has been a key instrument in the sexualising and de-sexualising of cervical cancer and HPV vaccines through the rationalisation of economic benefits.
Domesticating In Home Displays in Selected British and Norwegian Households (2017-07-07)
The paper uses qualitative data from Norway and the United Kingdom to understand the new technology of In Home Display monitors as a material object loaded with meaning and norms that may affect social practices and relations. The displays are designed to encourage householders to reduce electricity consumption. In contrast to technologies associated with ‘smart meters’, the monitors under study cannot be used for controlling or automatising various types of electricity consumption, but these devises nonetheless often form part of ‘smart grid solutions’. A large part of the research in this area has attempted to quantify the impact of displays, and qualitative research focusing on the users has also mainly sought to explain why - or why not – the introduction of displays has resulted in reduced household consumption. This paper follows a more open approach to the introduction and impact of displays by paying attention to the existing routines and social practices into which the display enters and potentially becomes integrated and domesticated. We examine to what extent ideas and norms inscribed in the display continue to have a bearing on the household moral economy and internal dynamics as the objects are negotiated and taken in use in British and Norwegian homes. Drawing on earlier studies that have sought to combine practice and domestication theory for understanding displays, the study’s novelty lies in its focus on the materiality of displays and social implications thereof, and its analysis of the social status of this object in two different contexts.
The Physiology of Imagined Publics (2018-01-08)
This paper draws on the concept of imagined lay persons (ILP) to investigate how scientists working in the fields of bio- and nanotechnology perceive the public and how these imaginaries facilitate or hinder engagement activities. Scientists construct imaginaries of publics that shape the ways in which they address the public, perceive the benefits of public engagement activities, and form communication strategies. Moreover, the paper argues that scientists’ accounts of the public are characterised by ambivalence regarding what the public is, the public’s knowledge and the public’s ability to take part in scientific processes. Thus, the paper proposes a more comprehensive approach to understanding ILPs than provided by previous studies, which have focused on the attribution of knowledge deficits and related fears of protest and resistance.