Contemporary public and political life in Britain would be unthinkable without the use of statistics and statistical reasoning. Politicians use statistics to track public opinion, while experts provide an ‘informed’ public with a steady stream of facts and figures. At the same time, the public defines itself and its fortunes in terms of statistics and statistical norms (growth rates, house prices, obesity levels, crime figures). The aim of this conference is to put this in historical perspective and to examine the ways numbers, norms and ideas of governance and ‘the people’ have combined to enable – and frustrate – the functioning of a democratic public sphere in modern Britain.
The conference is inter-disciplinary in orientation and welcomes historians from all fields (social, political, economic, history of science etc.), and those with interests in historical sociology and political science. It especially welcomes historians willing to engage critically with Habermas’s notion and narrative of the modern public sphere, from its inception in the eighteenth century to its transformation in the twentieth. The conference aims to attract both long-term historiographical/theoretical reflections and more focused, historical case studies.
Professor Theodore Porter, of UCLA, will be giving the keynote address, entitled: ‘Statistics as Agent of Technicality; or How Social Science Lost its Public’.
Themes include, but are not limited to:
- theoretical and long-term historical reflections on the emergence of the public sphere, statistics and the modern state (including the perspectives of Foucault and Luhmann);
- the public use and circulation of statistics, and the ethical and political values this embodied (disinterestedness, public accountability)
- statistics and the generation of public, private and political identities;
- statistics as a source of both trust and authority, suspicion and critique;
- the genesis and use of public opinion polling and associated ideas of good and bad political practice; the politics and ethics of public opinion polling;
- statistics, the public sphere and ‘mixed’ economies of welfare;
- the public sphere and information technologies.
Contact: Please send a brief CV and proposal (300 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for the submission of abstracts is 21 April 2008. Alternatively, if you are interested in attending as a delegate please e-mail to reserve a place.
Dr Glen O'Hara
Oxford Brookes University
(01865) 484 166
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