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Data and Number Practices
Calculating and making public carbon footprints is becoming self-evident for multinational corporations. Drawing on ethnographic data I narrate of the calculative routine practices involved in that process. The narration shows how routine yet sophisticated mathematical transformations are involved in retrieving salient information, and second that mathematical consistency is readily interrupted by 'dirty data'. Such interruptions call for opportunistic data management in devising work-arounds, which effect enough mathematical coherence for the number to hold together. Foregrounding an episode of calculative data retrieval, interruption and work-around contrivance, I employ it to make a comparative reading of two STS analytics, arguing: whereas Callon and Law's (2005) analytic technique of qualculation reveals the episode of data management and work around contrivance as a teleologically oriented process that manages to bridge mathematical inconsistency, Verran's technique of ontologising troubles enables us to recognise how a number-as-network configures its particular kind of certainty and coherence, how it sticks.
Numbers matter in science, technology and in myriad further fields. Relating to the ubiquitous presence of numbers and numbering, STS has been developing and drawing on a range of analytics in generative studies of numbers and numbering (e.g. Lave 1988, Porter 1995, Verran 2001). Among recent innovations in STS analytics of numbers and numbering, four lines of work recruit a dynamics of referencing and application: H. Verran’s investigations of numbering and enumerated entities, K. Asdal’s approach to studying the relation between (non-)use of numbers and authority, the conversations between F. Cochoy, M. Callon and J. Law on the intersection of quantification and qualification and the analytical promise of the neologist term qualculation, and the study of valuation in the context of C.F. Helgesson and F. Muniesa's Valuation Studies that involves engaging how quantifying values and how valuing something relates to numbering it. This special issue invites contributors to apply and scrutinise, rather than “merely” apply, such recent analytic innovations through empirical engagement. By this we hope to foreground how analysing numbering, interrogating enumerated entities, and revealing calculations and their intersections with qualifications, separately and together contribute to STS scholarship.
Number studies have featured often in past STS scholarship. We offer six papers each of which we see as broaching a novel issue in STS number studies. They attend to a very wide range of sociotechnical situations where numbers and/or algorithms feature. Contributors reflect on the analytic framing they have been using to make their STS number study and to comparatively articulate the analytic affordances it offered. This SI, then, is concerned to find out how contemporary number studies have been deploying new analytics that are emerging in STS.
Ecological modernist approaches to climate change are premised upon knowing carbon emissions. I ask how corporate environmental managers know and do carbon, i.e., shape the reality of emissions. I argue that for managers’ practical purposes carbon exists as malleable data. Based on ethnographic fieldwork over a period of 20 months in a Fortune 50 multinational corporation, I show that managers materially-discursively arrange heterogeneous entities – databases, files, paper, words, numbers – in and between office spaces, enabling them to stage emission facts as stable and singular. Employing Annemarie Mol’s work on multiplicity, I show that multiple enactments of carbon hang together not by an antecedent body (CO2) but through ongoing configurations of data practices. Disillusioning promissory economic discourses of ‘internalisation’, I demonstrate: Management is materially premised upon preventing purportedly internalised carbon realities from entering capitalist core processes. This undermines carbon economics’ realist promises. Staging some carbon realities as in control is premised upon managers’ ongoing, reflexive, partial and always situated configuration of, e.g., standards, formal meetings or digital data practices in which humans do carbon-as-data. Carbon practices are materially-discursively aligned, forming a configuration. This configuration effects carbon as a malleable and locally configurable space rather than as a closed fact. Reconstructing managers’ practices as configuring carbon-as-dataspace, I argue, allows grasping adequately the contingency and constraints of managing carbon as a particular material-discursive form of environment. In conclusion I generalise the environmental management office as a space that can be configured to stage, beyond carbon, other global environments as well.