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Home > Seminars > Historical, philosophical and anthropological approaches to numbers, measurement and measurability

Axis Interdisciplinarity in History and Philosophy of Science

Historical, philosophical and anthropological approaches to numbers, measurement and measurability

The SPHERE Laboratory has opened an interdisciplinary theme "Historical, philosophical and anthropological approaches to numbers, measurement and measurability" (see

Nadine de Courtenay (HPS, Univ. Paris Cité & SPHere), Fabien Grégis (SPHere) & Edgar Lejeune (Temos & SPHere)

PROGRAM 2023-2024

The seminar takes place monthly, on Wednesday, from 2.30 pm to 5.30 pm (except for 13th December session) at Condorcet building - Université Paris Cité 4 rue Elsa Morante Paris 75013

25th October 2023, room 646A-Mondrian

Measurement in economics – « Quantification and economic models »
Presentations : Quentin Dufour (ENS) & Verena Halsmayer (University of Lucerne)

Verena Halsmayer - University of Lucerne
Merely a model: Solow’s growth model as a historical artifact

Abstract :
In my presentation I will talk about a book manuscript, in which I want to find out what made the economist Robert Solow’s model of economic growth (1956) a “model” and what that meant. I do so from a historian’s perspective: attending to other forms of economic knowledge and their settings between the 1930s and 1960s helps me to investigate the model’s specific material and medial characteristics. At the same time, this approach allows me to tell episodes from the history of growth as an economists’ problem. Several episodes from the life of what soon came to be called “the Solow model” investigate the interplay between model form, economists’ reasoning about growth and development, measurement techniques, and practices of intervention in specific circumstances. As did many other economic modelers, Solow frequently emphasized that it was merely a model—a stylized construct, heuristic device, a tool for investigation. And yet, it was precisely such framing that allowed it to entertain a host of engagements and unfold its suggestive power. Ultimately, it turned into a model of what it meant to think like an economist.

Quentin Dufour - Centre Maurice Halbwachs
Producing a state of the economy. Data transformations and the representation of the economy

Abstract :
National accounts are based on two major tables - the Overall Economic Table (OEE) and the Input-Output Table (IOT). Together, they are generally considered as the main representations of the national economy. However, to tell something about the state of a country’s economy for a month or a year, they both need to be filled-in with data. This communication focuses on the measurement practices that turn empty tables into full tables, in the case of the French Statistical Institute. At the crossroads of the sociology of quantification and the sociology of science, we question the kind of data and the kind of work that needs to be achieved on them to produce a state of the economy. To fill-in their tables, French statisticians can lean on vast amounts of preexisting economic data. Nonetheless, once collected, they are not directly integrated into the tables. This communication shows that, to produce a state of the economy, workers cannot keep data as they are. Rather, they massively transform them to achieve a consistent picture of the economy for the quarter or the year. We identify four transformation processes that allow data to be compatible with the accounting tables: economization, temporalization, globalization, and stabilization. The analysis is based on a nine-month ethnographic survey within the National Accounts Department inside the French Statistical institute.

15th November 2023, room 371A-Klein

Text reading : Luca Mari, Andrew Maul, David Torres Irribarra & Mark Wilson (2017), “Quantities, Quantification, and the Necessary and Sufficient Conditions for Measurement”, Measurement 100:115-121, DOI=
Presentation : Fabien Grégis (SPHere)

13th December 2023, 9.00 am to 6.00 pm, room 646A-Mondrian

Round table « Which formalizations for which measurements? Journey across disciplines. »

10th January 2024, room 646A-Mondrian

Text reading : Henri Lebesgue (1931), About measuring quantities.
Presentation : Thomas Berthod (Université Paris Cité, SPHere)

[Cancelled] 14th February 2024, room 371A-Klein

Multidimensional statistical analysis (temporary title)
Invitations on progres

13th March 2024, room 646A-Mondrian

Text reading : Charles-Victor Langlois and Charles Seignobos (1898), Introduction to historical studies.
Presentation : Edgar Lejeune (Université Paris Cité, SPHere & EHESS, CAK)

3rd April 2024, room 646A-Mondrian

Text reading : Claude Elwood Shannon (1948), “A Mathematical Theory of Communication”, The Bell System Technical Journal 379:423.
Presentation : Marie-José Durand-Richard (Université Paris 8, SPHere)

22nd May 2024, room 646A-Mondrian

Ethic and measure (temporary title)
Invitations on progres

12th June 2024, room 646A-Mondrian

Reading text on hypothesis tests and correlation analyses (Neyman-Pearson)
Presentation : Nadine de Courtenay (Université Paris Cité, SPHere)

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