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IOE Blog


Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


Education and the tyranny of numbers

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 16 November 2014

Stephen J Ball 
We are now, as Jenny Ozga aptly puts it, ‘governed by numbers’. Numbers in different aspects of our lives rate, compare and allocate us to categories. Numbers define our worth, measure our effectiveness, and in a myriad of other ways work to inform or construct what we are today. We are subject to numbers and numbered subjects. We also subject ourselves to numbers –  numerous apps are now available to monitor ourselves in real time in numerical terms – the mappiness app measures when we are happy. As the website explains: ‘The hedonimeters on the right display mappiness users’ happiness in real-time, compared against the all-time average’. From these data we can create a file, a case-history, make ourselves into an object of gaze and subject for improvement.
This is a relatively new form of governing which nonetheless has a long history. The word ‘statistics’, the representation of the social in numerical form, means literally, from its German origins, state numbers – the systematic collection of demographic and economic data by states. In the 19th century the state established its relation to and monitored ‘the population’ using numbers likes censuses (who, how many and where) and epidemiological records (Death Certificates – who died of what where). These were critical tools in the (more…)