City: Halle (Saale), Germany
Organiser: Research Cluster "Society and Culture in Motion"
Venue: University of Halle

Nowadays, « big data » is everywhere. There is a clear excitement about them, which has been stated, for example, like this: “One way to think about the issue today […] is this: big data refers to things one can do at a large scale that cannot be done at a smaller one, to extract newinsights or create new forms of value, in waysthat change the mar- kets,organizations, the relationships between citizens and governments, and more”. (Mayer-Schönberger, Viktor., and Kenneth. Cukier. Big Data: A Revolution That Will Trans- form How We Live, Work, and Think. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. p.6.)
This impressive statement, since it says that data will transform everything from the market to government, raises several questions. First, is this really possible? Can information, quan- tities,whichdescribeelementsof the world, can in fact really beactors,agenciesforits transformation? How is this possible? Second question: is this that extensive? Can really these data change that many things, how far the transformation can go? Finally, is that so new? Did it ever happen before that methods of quantification had been a transformati- ve force of societies? To answer these questions, we go back in the history of statistics since the beginning of the XXth century, and to study cases where quantification techniques had precisely been tools of governance, and thus a transformative force of society.

Emmanuel Didier is a founding member and permanent researcher at Epidopo (Epigenetics, Data, Politics), a joint research unit funded by the French CNRS and UCLA and located in the latter. He is an associate researcher with the Centre Maurice Halbwachs (CNRS, Ecole normale supérieure and EHESS) and a member of the Center for Study of Invention and Social Process at Goldsmiths, the University of London.