When the Great Depression struck, the US government lacked tools to assess the situation; there was no reliable way to gauge the unemployment rate, the number of unemployed, or how many families had abandoned their farms to become migrants. In his talk, Emmanuel Didier will examine the development in the 1930s of one such tool: representative sampling. Didier describes and analyzes the work of New Deal agricultural economists and statisticians who traveled from farm to farm, in search of information that would be useful for planning by farmers and government agencies. Didier shows that their methods were not just simple enumeration; these new techniques of quantification shaped the New Deal and American democracy even as the New Deal shaped the evolution of statistical surveys. Didier explains how statisticians had to become detectives and anthropologists, searching for elements that would help them portray America as a whole. Representative surveys were one of the most effective instruments for their task.
Emmanuel Didier is a professor (directeur de recherche CNRS) at the Centre Maurice Halbwachs (École Normale Supérieure, Paris) and a member of the Center for the Study of Invention and Social Process (Goldsmiths University of London). His areas of interest are socio-history of quantification, political sociology, theory, health and medicine, sociology of the digital world and ethics. Didier is a member of the French National Advisory Council on Ethics (Comité Consultatif National d’Ethique), and the editor of the scholarly journal Statistique et Société. His books include America by the Numbers. Quantification, Democracy and the Birth of National Statistics, Benchmarking (with Isabelle Bruno), and the edited volume Statactivisme, (with Isabelle Bruno and Julien Prévieux). Recently he has been working on a project on big data in the domain of health and especially genomic science.