Metrics

Marlee Tichenor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Numbers, enumeration, and the quantification of contemporary life seem to govern our existence more and more. Particularly since the dawn of the twenty-first century, the importance of quantification for governance has grown, and anthropologists have increasingly turned their attention to the ramifications of metrics, or numeric representation that translates assumed realities into numbers (Rottenburg & Merry 2015: 2). They study whether and how the production, synthesis, analysis, and use of metrics is tied to the rise and decentralization of audit and accountability in contemporary capitalism. This entry will first provide a theoretical framework for the anthropology of metrics, drawing on science and technology studies and the history of science. Then, it will discuss how anthropologists have analysed the social impact of enumerative practices. Looking at the practices and infrastructures that produce metrics and that metrics in turn produce, this entry will highlight the importance of colonial legacies for shaping what is ‘knowable’ in the realms of global governance, economics, and health. Finally, the entry will point to tensions at the heart of contemporary critiques of metrics: in our ‘post-truth’ world, these critiques cannot reject the usefulness of truthfully describing and estimating human phenomena. However, these critiques foreground the idea that metrics are always just one form of evidence among many.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalThe Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 14 Oct 2020

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