vendredi 29 mai 2015

Qualculating overflows.

Prof. Bourbaki, Cycle of framing & overflowing, 2015 (derived from Callon, 2002)
However big they may be, data never fully cover the world they refer to. Reality will always overflow (or escape) the web of references that are supposed to account for it (Latour, 1999a). Here we reach a second taboo of scientific overflow management. As we already saw with Fellman and Popp, the first taboo is the impossibility of embracing everything. The second taboo is the symmetric counterpart of the first: if analysts are unable to welcome all data and are yet obliged to pretend that they do (first taboo), the data they have are often not enough to support the results fully, yet they must present them as such. Historians cannot bu present their work in terms of official science, as a body of knowledge stemming from rigorous methods and objective data, for instance. Yet they know perfectly well that it is possible to reach that objective only by implementing an amazing practice of literary creation. Historians' accounts largely consist of filling the overflowing gaps of missing data with words, linking the available facts with appropriate guesses, writing a coherent and continuous story from erratic and discrete traces, discovering the flow of past events through narrative and creative inventions (second taboo). In other words and as far as overflow management is concerned, the scientific and the literary, the real and the imaginary, the calculative and the qualitative go hand in hand. One cannot account for the flood of things without appropriate 'qualculation' procedures: procedures which combine numbers and words, or replace statistical figures with rhetorical ones when the former are missing (Cochoy, 2008). Several contributions to this book brilliantly illustrate the pervasiveness of this scheme: the talent of smart accountants is not limited to computing skills, but extends to and rests upon a virtuous ability to embed numbers with proper notions and stories of mergers, tariff reserves and budget expenditures (Czarniawska, Donatella and Solli); even the traders of financial markets that everyone acknowledges as the wizards of pure economic calculation are also frenetic storytellers. As Tarim demonstrates, markets professionals do not calculate; they 'formulate' the economy. Formulation is really the right word (Callon, 2013); it brings together the formulas (the famous Black and Scholes equation performed on derivative markets; MacKenzie and Millo, 2003), the forms (in which numbers are recorded) and the narrative 'formulations', without which the formulas could have no performative effects. Last but not least, the urban planners of Tapiola frame and reinvent city overflows at the same time, showing us how the cold analytics of modern technocracy can be combined with poetic dreams of pure Utopia (Pantzar).

Franck Cochoy, Afterword: overflows as boundary events between organizations and markets in Barbara Czarniawska & Orvar Löfgren (eds.), Coping with Excess, How Organizations, Communities and Individuals Manage Overflows, Edward Elgar, 2013, p.275-276.

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