The Meaning of Numbers: Understanding Diversity Through an Ethnographic Linguistic Landscaping Approach

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talkScientific


More often than not numbers, or better the quantification of societal phenomena expressed through numbers, appears to be the most convincing discursive weapon that institutions adopt in communicating a perceived societal problem to their citizens. Yet again, more often than not, one thing remains unasked, that is: where do those numbers come from?

In my talk, I first focus on the use of measuring and calculating that is done by governmental agencies and local institutions in order to examine the impact of migratory movements on mainstream urban spaces. Once done so, while focusing on the societal meaning attached to counting for steering public opinion, I will be exploring the same phenomena through emergent digital narratives of mobility, immobility, inclusion and exclusion showing how the internet and its numbers do tend to re-enforce the above through 'regimes of digital counting truth'.

Last, I zoom on to ELLa, that is I zoom on Ethnographic Linguistic Landscaping research (Blommaert & Spotti 2014, Spotti & Blommaert 2017). It is by drawing on thick data that shed light on the political discourse issued on the basis of numbers that I will have you reflect on how the reasoning behind numbers alone turns out to be a matter of urgent attention if we wish to understand urban diversity through the lens of conviviality rather than through the lens of inescapable differences.

Question: Notwithstanding that by now ethnography has become a discipline with its own epistemology and ontology, numbers have been the obsession of mankind to the extent that those who work with numbers do hard science while those who work with words, like ethnographers do - in the best of cases do soft science and in the worse 'butterfly picking'. In the light of the present discussion, what do you think is the best pathway to take so to have policymakers dealing with diversity understand that there is no need for a quant. vs qual. divide?
Period3 Jul 2022
Event titleThe Graz International Summer School Seggau (GUSEGG) is a 2-weeks international academic program inviting motivated and interested students from all disciplines and all levels to apply. Approaching the overall topic: Re-Measuring, Re-Calculating, Re-Counting: State – Society – Religion in Transition, students will attend morning lectures, seminar modules and panel discussions and thus learn about this topic from different disciplines and perspectives. The unique setting of 80 students and 20 professors from all over the world living together on the castle campus will enable in-depth discussions between seminars and lectures, and foster a sustainable knowledge-transfer. Re-Measuring, Re-Calculating, Re-Counting: STATE – SOCIETY – RELIGION in Transition
Event typeWorkshop
Degree of RecognitionInternational