Subitizing practices and market decisions: The role of simple graphs in business valuations

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The 2x2 matrix is the premier figuration for representing business valuations (Lowy and Hood 2004)but remains the unexplained success of the business world. Scholars have a rather vague sense of how to theorise its influences on processes of decision making and valuation in markets. The temptation-understandable, but unsatisfactory-is to dismiss the matrix as ‘overly simple’ (Lissack and Richardson 2003). More difficult still, however, is to account for the disproportionality between the simplicity of this format and its effects. One reading-the reading pursued here-is that the capture of business by the matrix suggests that simple graphs are not mere supplements but intrinsic and constitutive parts of business evaluation processes. But in what ways? And how to show this? In developing this point we extend the recent interdisciplinary discussions of‘calculative agency’(Callon and Muniesa 2005) which is defined broadly as a process of ‘framing’ and ‘disentanglement’where devices mark the boundary between information relevant to a decision making process and that which is not. Rather than this catch-all definition however, which Callon and Muniesa(2005, 1232)suggest can be applied “as much to supermarkets as to stock exchanges”, we argue the case for more specific terminology to capture the heterogeneity of calculation in business settings. We want to show how the matrix frames decisions in a way that is‘immediate’, ‘fast’ etc, as compared to other devices,which provide for apparently more ‘complex’ or ‘slower’ means of valuation. We take our inspiration from the idea of ‘subitizing’ which was borne out of early research on visual calculation. Our discussion is based on material stemming from a long-term ethnographic study of the production and use of a well-known matrix from the information technology realm.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMaking Things Valuable
EditorsMartin Kornberger, Lise Justesen, Anders Koed-Madsen, Jan Mouritsen
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)9780198712282
Publication statusPublished - 13 Aug 2015


  • visual
  • decision making
  • calculative agency
  • devices


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