Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Trust in NumbersThe Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life$
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content.

Theodore M. Porter

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780691208411

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691208411.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM PRINCETON SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.princeton.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Princeton University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in PRSO for personal use.date: 28 June 2022

How Social Numbers Are Made Valid

How Social Numbers Are Made Valid

(p.33) Chapter Two How Social Numbers Are Made Valid
Trust in Numbers

Theodore M. Porter

Princeton University Press

This chapter explains that, as with the methods of natural science, the quantitative technologies used to investigate social and economic life work best if the world they aim to describe can be remade in their image. Numbers alone never provide enough information to make detailed decisions about the operation of a company. Their highest purpose is to instill an ethic. Measures of profitability — measures of achievement in general — succeed to the degree they become “technologies of the soul.” They provide legitimacy for administrative actions, in large part because they provide standards against which people judge themselves. Grades in school, scores on standardized examinations, and the bottom line on an accounting sheet cannot work effectively unless their validity, or at least reasonableness, is accepted by the people whose accomplishments or worth they purport to measure. When it is, the measures succeed by giving direction to the very activities that are being measured. In this way, individuals are made governable; they display what Foucault called governmentality. Numbers create and can be compared with norms, which are among the gentlest and yet most pervasive forms of power in modern democracies.

Keywords:   quantitative technologies, social life, economic life, standards, validity, measurements, governmentality, democracies

Princeton Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.

Please, subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.

To troubleshoot, please check our FAQs , and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.