Thinking with Numerical Figures

Thinking With Numerical Figures.
Reflexiones Journal 90 (2), UCR.
Spanish 2011.

What does it mean to think with numerical figures? In this essay, the term figure means not only an element in the convention of arithmetic, but also the form in which numerical and statistical data is graphically arranged. This essay attributes a particular function to such graphical arrangement: in the nineteenth century it became a means of control through which to collect, classify, enumerate, and disseminate knowledge in the Western modern world. A way of thinking and doing is imposed through this form. We examine the presence and use of graphical conventions in a diversity of forms of knowledge, such as medicine, economics, moral statistics, public heath, and poverty. By showing how disparate issues —causes of death, railway timetables, commercial fluctuations, crime and instruction, poverty, and health— are organised under the same graphical convention it will be possible to grasp the extent to which this particular function came to dominate in the nineteenth century.