Numerical Operations, Transparency Illusions and the Datafication of Governance

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    Building on conceptual insights from the history and sociology of numbers, media and surveillance studies, and theories of governance and risk, this article analyzes the forms of transparency produced by the use of numbers in social life. It examines what it is about numbers that often makes their ‘truth claims’ so powerful, investigates the role that numerical operations play in the production of retrospective, real-time and anticipatory forms of transparency in contemporary politics and economic transactions, and discusses some of the implications resulting from the increasingly abstract and machine-driven use of numbers. It argues that the forms of transparency generated by machine-driven numerical operations open up for individual and collective practices in ways that are intimately linked to precautionary and pre-emptive aspirations and interventions characteristic of contemporary governance. As such, these numerical operations raise important political and ethical questions that deserve further conceptual and empirical scrutiny.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalEuropean Journal of Social Theory
    Issue number2
    Pages (from-to)203-220
    Number of pages18
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


    • Anticipatory Transparency
    • big data
    • Numerical Operations
    • Pre-emptive Prediction
    • Rankings
    • Risk

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