Apr 8, 2009

commensuration and analogical reasoning

Commensuration transforms qualities into quantities, difference into magnitude ... Most quantification can be understood as commensuration because quantification creates relations between different entities through a common metric.
wendy espeland and mitchell stevens, "commensuration as a social process"
metrics and quantification happen to be the most obvious and easily-operationalized action frameworks for commensuration but they're not the only ones. semantic taxonomies perform the same function, such that systems of related meaning function as a way to filter the world of perceived objects into interpreted objects that are more-related or less-related to each other. the example i favour is that of the colour red, which is equivalent to a subjectively-variable domain of coordinates in the CMYK colorspace, another range of domains in the RGB colorspace, and yet another array of colour-words depending on language--what this example shows is that commensuration (the drawing of connections between conceptual or concrete entities) is not purely a process of relation, or purely a process of imposition, but may also be a process of analogical identity-creation.

the agenda espeland and stevens pursue partly explains the restricted set of commensuration action they include in their review article, but it might be fruitful to extend the conception of commensuration to analogical reasoning as well (instead of the purely transitive logic they describe). this enables the further analysis they offer (of institutions, movements, power dynamics, etc) to also inform those situations in which the similarity or difference between entities is an emergent property of interaction. enfolding analogy into the range of commensurative actions also permits us to acknowledge and address the frequent cases in which individuals commensurate objects in spirit while acknowledging their fundamental formal incommensurability. this is akin to the distinction weber draws between wertrationality (value-rationality) and zweckrationality (formal rationality)

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