Counting: Cultures of Measurement, Quantification, and Surveillance


ACLS Fellowship Program




“Counting” examines technologies of quantification and their entanglements with race, alongside artistic engagements with counting. It analyzes the racial dimensions of digital counting practices while paying close attention to who is counting, who determines what counts, who constitutes the uncounted or the uncountable, and who is all too readily counted. This project argues that the nineteenth century, which saw developments including statistics’ foundational role in eugenic science, modern capitalism’s emergence and expansion, and conceptions of mechanical objectivity, profoundly influenced today’s digital counting. This project argues that these earlier nineteenth-century phenomena and their inscriptions of race continue to structure contemporary counting practices, from big data, digital redlining, biometric surveillance technologies, predictive policing software, and the environmental costs of digital counting. As “Counting” analyzes these various digital counting technologies, it turns to artworks that reflect—and often challenge—counting technologies’ racial biases and claims of objectivity and neutrality.