Fluidic flows and watery cascades in achieving calculability for grand challenges

Event Date: 6 November 2023

Speaker: Dr Madlen Sobkowiak (University of Birmingham)

Time: 1pm

Venue: CW404A, Cathedral Wing, Strathclyde Business School


In this paper, we present a novel perspective on accounting and calculative practices, introducing the concept of fluidity as a fundamental element alongside traditional network space. Departing from conventional views that perceive accounting as primarily a tool for managerial control, we delve into the intricate dynamics of addressing grand challenges through the lens of a "watery cascade of inscriptions." Drawing upon a case study involving the construction of the UK government's breeding birds’ indicators, we elucidate the pivotal role played by fluidity and adaptability within this calculative process. Our central argument revolves around the notion that a comprehensive comprehension of calculative practices necessitates the acknowledgment of the coexistence of network spaces and fluid dynamics. To elucidate this, we borrow from Mol and Law's framework (1994) and describe fluid objects as entities characterized by flexible boundaries, adaptable forms, and shifting mixtures. These fluid attributes are vividly exemplified in the endeavours of bird survey volunteers who collect data within 1-kilometer squares and in the subsequent transformation of this data into wild bird indicators. Our paper challenges traditional conceptions of accounting by underscoring the imperative need for nuanced approaches when quantifying grand challenges such as nature loss. We emphasize that entity boundaries are not static but rather exhibit gradients, mirroring the ever-evolving landscapes navigated by dedicated volunteers. Furthermore, we highlight the adaptability of fluid objects as they respond to changes in the socio-material environment, displaying the capability to adjust their forms and recalibrate methodologies as required. Lastly, we introduce the concept of shifting mixtures to underscore the intricate complexity of nature loss, characterized by a multifaceted interplay of diverse and incommensurable elements.

Published: 2 November 2023

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