Early Transnational Networks, the “Rise of Statistical Thinking”, and the Construction and Diffusion of Social Indicators

Monday, 16 July 2018: 18:00
Oral Presentation
Kaat LOUCKX, University of Chicago, USA
In recent scholarly literature, the role of national actors in the “rise of statistical thinking” has received ample attention. However, the impact of early transnational political and scientific networks has hitherto been largely overlooked. In this paper, I attempt to explore this neglected aspect by studying a preeminent example of such a network, viz. the Congrès International de Statistique. The Congrès (1853-1876) was established in the margins of the Great Exhibition (1851) on the initiative of the renowned Belgian statistician Adolphe Quetelet. Via its sessions, the Congrès organized the international transfer of knowledge; it became the first setting for professionalizing statisticians worldwide and one of the first models of international scholarly collaboration. This paper focuses on the mediating role of this early international transfer of knowledge in managing domestic social problems, such as indigence, pauperism, and delinquency. It examines, more particularly, the decision-making rationales behind the construction and standardization of social indicators and the tensions within the Congrès between different understandings of what constitutes ‘national welfare’.