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Article Dans Une Revue Les Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales (English Edition) Année : 2018

Poor Numbers: Statistical Chains and the Political Economy of Numbers


Morten Jerven's Poor Numbers sheds light on the acute fragility of African statistics, itself linked to the precarious conditions in which aggregates are produced. As patchy and problematic as they are, these numbers are nevertheless ubiquitous as instruments of proof and tools of government. Quantified fictions take shape in complex statistical chains that stretch from their producers to the economists who use them, and are mediated by international organizations. Focusing on the criterion of accuracy, Poor Numbers powerfully conveys its message of “garbage in, garbage out,” but leaves important questions related to the relevance of statistics unanswered. The history, sociology, and political economy of numbers sketched by Jerven merit closer consideration with a view to the following: identifying the connections between evolving state forms and the development of statistics; establishing a historical ethnography of the organizations that produce and use numbers; understanding the growing role of multinationals in the political economy of statistics; taking a less conciliatory view of the involvement of international organizations; and, last but not least, denaturalizing the dominant economic categories by integrating the plurality of economic approaches to statistics. The article concludes with a call for a comparative political economy of numbers that would no longer consider the African case in isolation, and would work against the idea that Africa has not entered statistical history, or has only done so “by mistake.”
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Dates et versions

hal-03688654 , version 1 (05-06-2022)



Agnès Labrousse. Poor Numbers: Statistical Chains and the Political Economy of Numbers. Les Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales (English Edition), 2018, 71 (04), pp.507-538. ⟨10.1017/S2398568218000109⟩. ⟨hal-03688654⟩


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