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Business Ethics and Quantification: Towards an Ethics of Numbers

Gazi Islam (2021)

Journal of Business Ethics. Online first

Abstract. Social practices of quantification, or the production and communication of numbers, have been recognized as important foundations of organizational knowledge, as well as sources of power. With the advent of increasingly sophisticated digital tools to capture and extract numerical data from social life, however, there is a pressing need to understand the ethical stakes of quantification. The current study examines quantification from an ethical lens, to frame and promote a research agenda around the ethics of quantification. After a brief overview of quantification research and its uses in state and market organization, I discuss quantification in terms of three core subprocesses—capture, specification, and appropriation, illustrating and identifying ethical concerns around each process. Linking these processes to the performative effects of measures, I present a working model of quantification from which the discussion builds ideas for developing a research agenda around quantification.”

Extract: “Numbers Represent and Construct Social Life
Quantification involves the articulation of aspects of people’s individual and collective lives as numerical quantities, an operation carrying complex problems and ambiguities (Mau 2019; Espeland and Stevens 2008). Numbers are often used to represent dimensions of objects in the world, but they can also be used to group together phenomena under a common metric to construct new social objects (Desrosières 1993).” (p. 3)

Link to the article)