The Cultural Logic of Facts and Figures

The Cultural Logic of Facts and Figures

– Objectification, Measurement and Standardization as Social Processes


The overall ambition of the project is to examine a number of contemporary modes of objectification, measurement and standardization to see how they constitute a cultural logic and shape the four main dimensions of social life:

  • Meaning/representation
  • Morality
  • Notions of thinghood
  • Notions of personhood

Modes of objectification – different ways of producing thinghood and thing-like entities like categories and classes – are part of the cultural "infrastructure" of any society. Social and cultural formations may be distinguished by their dominant modes of producing objecthood, and historical changes have generated a series of concepts designed to capture the defining characteristics of new modes of objectification (also called thingification and entification in the following): commodification (from Marx to Comaroff), reification (from Lukacs to Honneth), fetishization (from Marx/Freud to Zizek), simulation (Baudrillard), spectacle (Debord), autopoiesis (Luhmann, i.a.), rhizomes and assemblages (Deleuze and Guattari), ANT (Latour, Law), "thing theory" (from Heidegger to Brown and Latour/Weibel), competing notions of totalities, especially the contrast between organistic and mechanistic conceptions of totality (from Hegel to DeLanda).

Concomitant with the successive series of concepts which have been devised to capture new modes of objectification, we have seen a series of "turns" which testify to a multiplicity of objectifying agents and analytical approaches: the linguistic, aesthetic, performative, rhetorical, calculative and neo-naturalistic turns.  One of the ambitions of the present project is to read these turns and contemporary modes of objectification as symptomatic of an emerging cultural logic which underlies them. ("Cultural logic" is an anthropological term given general currency by i.a. Jameson, 1991. Sahlins (1976) provides a classical model for this kind of analysis in his chapter "La Pensée Bourgeoise: Western Society as Culture").  We do not want to over-systematize these tendencies, but they do articulate in determinate ways, and their convergence needs to be analyzed more closely than is usually accomplished by the application of blanket terms like "neoliberalism". 

To investigate some of  these tendencies in depth and to trace their interrelations, we have gathered a group of academics who would like to follow up their pioneering  analyses of contemporary life and help bring about a new synthesis of recent developments like the new economic cosmologies, new object strategies in the arts, the branding of identities, the breakdown of dichotomies between inert things and agents, the simultaneous instrumentalization and subjectification of morality, the performative nature of identity work, the commercialization of emotional life and other contemporary phenomena. 

The project is financed by the Norwegian Research Council through the SAMKUL program. Read more about SAMKUL and the Norwegian Research Council here.

Read more about the The Cultural Logic of Facts and Figures-project.