Historical Social Research

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Laurent Thévenot: Measure for Measure: Politics of Quantifying Individuals to Govern Them. [Abstract]

This article compares a variety of modes of quantifying individuals to govern them. The analytical grid issues from a former research program on the Politics of Statistics that focused on one of these modes of governing by numbers, the statistical nation state, which is here included in an array of more recently developed governing numbers based on benchmarking, digital tracking, or self-quantifying. Three main operations differentiate modes of governing by numbers: measuring individuals for quantification, taking political measures accordingly to guide their behaviors, and an intermediate operation that is often less visible although situated between the two previous ones and needed to link them: evaluating the situation through a measured judgment that justifies the monitoring based on numbers. This analysis breaks down data into the sequential steps of the transformations chain of information formats needed to pass from an individual person to a governing figure. The plurality of modes of evaluation, and its reduction by quantification, is given high significance, as well as the way each mode of governing affects individuals, their identity and their possibility to critically reflect and question.

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