Crosscurrents of Commensuration

16 April 2018, 09:00 - 17 April 2018, 17:30

SG1/2 Alison Richard Building, Sidwick Site

Crosscurrents of Commensuration will explore commensuration – in its widest possible sense – as a focus of critical analysis across the social sciences and humanities.  Construed broadly, commensuration involves equating units or entities judged in the first instance to be essentially different and incomparable with one another.  Such operations of same-making – along with corollary processes of differentiation and distinction – are fundamentally generative aspects of sociocultural life, and have proven to be highly fecund as both objects and optics of analysis across the social sciences and humanities.

This two-day event will bring together researchers from across the social sciences and humanities to consider commensuration from different disciplinary and theoretical perspectives with the aim of broadening and deepening the critical scope of commensuration as an optic of social analysis.  What arises at the intersection of different ways of thinking about commensuration and its cognates?  How might different disciplinary approaches to commensuration and cognate problematics enrich and inform one another?

One influential strand of social scientific thinking has considered commensuration in terms of processes of quantification, abstraction, and commodification associated with the spread of market capitalism and with practices of rationalization and standardization characteristic of “modern” state power.  More recent sociological work has taken up commensuration in relation to the proliferating use of metrics, indicators, and rankings associated with audit cultures and regimes of neoliberal governance more generally.  Work in this vein attends to these devices’ formal properties and situated uses to illuminate how they are apt to effect subjects’ conduct and to generate new entities.  Recent anthropological work has extended the concept of commensuration beyond literal measurement and the explicitly quantitative to consider how claims and pragmatic enactments concerning degrees of likeness, difference, and relative value are generative of all manner of sociocultural bridges and boundaries. This work also calls attention to the contingent nature of commensuration – to the work of comparison and judgment it entails, and to the fact that it is subject to authoritative ratification, and liable to contestation, subversion, and failure.

Social science approaches to commensuration overlap in suggestive ways with work in other disciplines on translation as a project of marking, mediating, and managing boundaries of all types: linguistic, cultural, spatial, and temporal.  How, for example, does a Christian missionary translate scripture such that it is sufficiently recognizable to be embraced by those whom he would convert, and yet also sufficiently distinct that its embrace can be considered a true “conversion”?  When is a translation of any type considered “true” to the original, and how does a copy – be it of a text, a material document, or of a pharmaceutical product – become a fake?  What interpretive codes and semiotic ideologies underpin such determinations, and how are they, too, negotiated and contested in tandem with reckonings of identity and difference?

Crossroads of Commensuration will bring together researchers to explore commensuration and its cognates as variously problematized within different disciplines and in relation to different objects.  We invite proposals for 20-minute papers from researchers working on commensuration and its cognates from different disciplinary and theoretical perspectives.

We are delighted to welcome as special invited participants Professor Wendy Espeland (Northwestern University) and Professor Brackette Williams (University of Arizona).

Call for Papers

Crosscurrents of Commensuration invites proposals for 20-minute papers from researchers working on commensuration and its cognates from different disciplinary and theoretical perspectives.

Orienting topics include but are not limited to:

The dialectics of quantification and qualification as they inform processes of commensuration
Mechanisms and effects of particular regimes of commensuration; conditions for their efficacy and failure
Commensurating the qualitative: aesthetics, affect, subjective states
Commensuration and temporality: how might making things the same “again” both presume and reciprocally anchor a sense of continuous, linear time? 
Commensuration, form, and materiality
Crises of commensuration
In/commensuration as a social imaginary/ideology, and as a strategic resource

Deadlines for paper proposals

Please submit an abstract of 200-300 words by February 15, 2018.  Abstracts should be sent to Trenholme Junghans ( Please include your name, institutional affiliation, e-mail address, and phone number.  Applicants will be notified if they have been accepted by March 1, 2018.


Crosscurrents of Commensuration is sponsored by the Limits of Numerical research group at CRASSH, University of Cambridge, with generous support from the Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF).