On June 2-3, in the idyllic surroundings of Tisvildeleje north of Copenhagen, the research center SUBSTANce held a research seminar on “quantification” and quantitative standards.
The purpose of the seminar was to discuss the interplay and tension between self-tracking practices and quantification regimes, and the performances, narratives, and subjectivities they create.
Among the questions we wanted to discuss were for instance: If numbers and quantifies order the world, by dividing it into quantities and by enabling comparisons, how do persons then use quantification in their handling of everyday life? Is numbering a “flattening” of experience, an “abstraction” ignores its quality? Does “quantifying” actions and experiences by putting them into numbers make them take on new ontological forms, that is, does quantification “create” what is measures? Or do numbers enable something else, new ways of acting, new forms of experience?
The seminar gathered 19 participants and had 5 presentations that presented different perspective upon the subject of “quantification”:
Estrid Sørensen, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, talked about how quantification in psychological science creates stories and how these shape our thinking about the objects of psychological research. Through a case of a quantitative study of media effect on violence proneness, she chartered the process of configuring these effects as quantitative phenomena as a “career” through journal publications.
Minna Ruckenstein from the National Consumer Research Center, Helsinki, talked about how tracking and measuring various kinds of bodily and mental functions could be seen as “personal analytics”. She discussed the Quantified Self movement and presented studies of how persons who monitored their heat-rate were provided with opportunities to interact with themselves through “data doubles”.
From the SUBSTANce group, Johan Simonsen Abildgaard and Lasse Meinert Jensen each presented projects dealing with Quantification.
First, Johan Simonsen Abildgaard presented results from an evaluation of a work environment intervention in the Danish postal service. He showed how concerns and struggles about “numbers”, quantitative standards, and their interpretation had emerged at different points in the evaluation.
Lasse Meinert Jensen presented preliminary findings from his study of self-monitoring standards in the “Minvej” social psychiatry program in the municipality of Copenhagen. He pointed to how the data tracking possibilities in the Minvej-app provides users with other ways of self-relating, as well as made possible “prototypical” ways of conducting one’s daily activities.
Lastly, Bjarke Oxlund, Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen, discussed numbers and self-monitoring in the context of preventive health practices. Using anthropological field studies of elderly Danish citizens who self-monitored their daily activity with pedometers, Oxlund showed how th
e preventive health concerns of “risks” and “prevention” influenced daily life, both when people embraced the health moral ideals and when they rejected or refused to behave in accordance with them. He pointed out, that “numbers” are not a singular “thing”, but encouraged us to think about different kinds of “numbers”, if we were to understand the impact of quantitative practices better.
In summary, the seminar was a great occasion for exchanging ideas and questions, and created opportunities for discussions, insights, and future collaborations. For SUBSTANce, the seminar continued the center’s investigations of “standards” into the field of quantities and numbers. So all in all a great opportunity for learning and discussion – plus very good food at the seminar location Kildegaard and a very nice walk by the north Zealand seaside!