Numerical Limits

Post-Doctoral Positions: Limits of the Numerical

This project consists of three teams at three universities exploring one of the most pressing sets of questions for the modern humanities and social sciences and their relation to policy. The questions are: What are the effects of the introduction of numerically-based quantification into all aspects of social and cultural evaluation? How do the uses of numerical calculation achieve their effects? Does quantification work against the values it is introduced to support, promote or capture? When this happens, how can quantification be revised to fit better with a system’s purposes and its participants’ needs?   
Three strands of research will be conducted at the University of Chicago, Cambridge University, and the University of California at Santa Barbara, covering three main strands of social policy: climate change, healthcare, and higher education. The teams will come together for a month on four occasions to run shared seminars and early career research workshops. Research will be developed and conducted in a collaborative manner, both within each strand and between the different strands. This model offers the rare possibility of bringing together detailed academic research in a broad, interdisciplinary, international framework.   
UC Santa Barbara will focus on higher education. Its PI is Christopher Newfield and its co-PI is Bishnupriya Ghosh, a professor and chair of the English department whose research is in post-colonial studies and in risk cultures. The UCSB team will report on four areas in which quantification has changed university teaching, research, administration, and public policy.  They are (1) university rankings, (2) calculations of returns on investment in BA majors, (3) quantified learning outcomes, and (4) research bibliometrics in qualitative fields. All reflect efforts to create indicators that measure output and productivity, and that can serve as the basis of objective evaluation.