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Arjun Appadurai

This article is built on a close reading of the use of the term 'calculation' by Max Weber. On the basis of this reading, I argue for a deeper understanding of Weber's views on uncertainty in the Calvinist ethos, and for a new approach to some key issues in the moral and discursive world of financial capital today, in which accounting, accountability and profit-making have become dangerously delinked from one another.

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Keith Hart

This note revisits Weber (especially his General Economic History) and Knight on risk and calculation, while adding commentary based on some other authors, notably Durkheim in The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. Some recent ethnographies of finance are considered, as well as popular literature on making money. The future is unknowable, but modern societies train their members to expect to pin down future time. Precise calculation of future outcomes is a chimera, one of the principal causes of the recent financial collapse. Reasoning works best backwards as rationalization and this is scientific method. Extrapolation from the past to the future is where it all breaks down.

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Pamela McElwee

Ecosystem services (ES) are increasingly used as the conceptual driver for conservation and development actions, largely following from the influential Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Scholars skeptical of the neoliberal turn in conservation have critiqued the use of economic values for nature’s services. What has been less well understood and reviewed, however, is how concepts of ES are enacted by technologies of calculation, as well as how calculative practices move through networks and among stakeholders. This review traces how definitions and metrics of ES have evolved and how they are used, such as in biodiversity offsetting and wetland mitigation programs. Using the idea of the creation and deployment of calculative mechanisms, this article discusses how these processes proceed in different ES contexts, assesses what work has to happen ontologically to make ES commensurable and circulatable, and speculates on what the opportunities for future pathways other than commodification are.

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Dan Brockington

Measuring and being measured are some of the fundamental aspects of our worlds. Without them, we cannot live in our environments or function as social beings. But how we measure, and are measured, and to what ends and purposes, matters a great deal. Measurement does not just record; it shapes, changes, and constitutes things. It is not merely descriptive. It is creative. This introduction to the special issue explores how these themes of measurement are played out in diverse settings, including counting fish stocks, migration, social resilience, local measures of sustainability, oil exploitation, forest conservation, calculating ecosystem services, and measuring heat. Collectively, they provide a better understanding of how crucial measurements are formulated, and how they are and can be contested.

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Nigel Dodd

This article discusses various challenges to the classical view of money as primarily a quantitative medium that contributes to the spread of a calculative attitude in our relations. Often associated with Georg Simmel and other social thinkers such as Weber, this somewhat dystopian view of money has more recently been given fresh impetus by a number of ‘post-crash’ publications that cast money as a root cause of increasing debt, greed, and irresponsible banking. Against this, I argue for a more nuanced, qualitatively rich perspective on money, one that is evident in this collection, which undertakes what might be called a ‘qualitative’ analysis of money’s quantitative features. This special issue presents an approach to money that treats it as a pluralistic phenomenon, with many different sides.

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Rural Poverty in Jordan

Assessment and Characterisation

Mohamed Tarawneh and Abdel Hakim Al Husban

Adopting a qualitative anthropological approach, this report discusses and critiques dominant theoretical currents in the study of poverty and presents a more qualitative analysis of the topic. Through an examination of rural Jordan, new sets of concepts and calculations on poverty - both qualitative and quantitative - have been forged. The research indicates that poverty, as an economic fact, can easily be manipulated and treated as a numerical game. As a social fact, poverty is seen in terms of complex coping strategies that are managed within a framework of social norms.

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Road Works

Some Observations on Representing Roads

Peter Merriman

Roads may be represented in many different media and cultural forms, from planning documents and maps to postage stamps, children's books, and postcards. While there has been a tendency among some scholars to study representations for what they can tell us about the history of particular road schemes, this article argues that roads are constructed and consumed as much through paper plans, financial calculations, popular representations, and public imaginations as through concrete and steel on the ground. Representations of roads “matter,” and the article suggests that scholars should study the broad array of representations through which the meanings of roads are produced, circulated, and consumed.

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Jonathan Magnonet

"All the calculated ends have already passed, and it now depends entirely on repentance and good deeds" (Sanhédrin). This rabbinic word of caution about anticipating the exact date of the arrival the Messiah would apply to all such hopes and calculations associated eschatological movements throughout history, as well as expectations bound the new millennium. Whether waiting for a new heaven to descend peacefully on earth or some final apocalyptic disaster, presumably covered by CNN, energies unleashed by the concept of the new millennium could be turned 'repentance and good deeds' the world might indeed be transformed messianic place. But the odds seem to be against such a radical transformation.

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Natural Resources by Numbers

The Promise of “El uno por mil” in Ecuador’s Yasuní-ITT Oil Operations

Amelia Fiske

In 2013, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced the end of the Yasuní-ITT initiative. The initiative had proposed to combat climate change by not exploiting oil reserves in one section of the Yasuní National Park. Anticipating outcry, Correa promised that operations would affect less than one thousandth of the park, or “menos del uno por mil.” This article examines the role of numerical calculations in the governance of subterranean resources. Numbers do a particular kind of labor to rationalize the shift contained in the Yasuní-ITT initiative that rhetoric alone does not. Metrics such as el uno por mil constitute and translate between diverse realms of value. Yet, contrary to the assumption that numbers are derived from strictly technical, expert processes, I show how such metrics are fundamental to translations between incalculable matters of nature, the future, and the “good” when deployed in contests over the effects of oil on life.

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Dennis Klein

This article looks at the significance of local circumstances, including direct encounters between victims and assailants, in the genocide process. In what scholars term “the micropolitical turn in the study of social violence,“ the argument here considers the encounter from the perspectives of both constituent parties. Assailants often acted before they thought, raising questions about the premise of intention and calculation that anchors the defining Article 2 in the United Nations Genocide Convention. Victims in local encounters express in their accounts a recognition of their assailants and describe what amounts to a betrayal of the trust they invested in their compatriots. Expressions of recognition in witness accounts attenuate victims' resentment and recrimination, opening a space that permitted possibilities for postgenocide reconciliation and even qualified forgiveness.