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Properties of Units and Standards

Project description

Analysing valuation systems and their economic and socio-cultural effects

Systems that quantify various aspects, such as pedometrics, time sheets, impact factors, carbon footprints, happiness barometers and risk assessments, are all around us. With this in mind, the ERC-funded Units project aims to analyse different valuation systems and their connection to the realms they measure. It delves into how the choice of a unit influences the numerical representation of human values by examining the characteristics of diverse units, measures and standards. Its focus is on ethnographic data collected from Oceania, using a comparative research design that underscores the importance of small-scale ethnographic analyses in addressing global issues. The project explores the concept that every measuring scale necessitates a unit of comparison, which has tangible, economic and socio-cultural ramifications.


We are constantly surrounded by measuring systems ranging from pedometrics, timesheets, and impact factors to carbon footprints, happiness barometers, or risk assessments. Quantity-assessment systems are always at work to allocate value to our actions.
This research project sets out to study diverse valuation regimes with an emphasis on their material and conceptual linkages with the worlds they measure. The project studies the properties of different units, measures, and standards to analyse how a choice of unit affects the numeric representation of human values. It approaches this task through a primary focus on ethnographic data from Oceania, but employs a comparative research design that draws out the usefulness of small-scale, ethnographic analyses for global issues.
The project introduces a unit-centred context-dependent approach. It assumes that the need to establish a fixed point of comparison is something common to all measuring scales: any yardstick of valuation requires a basic unit, a standard equivalent that serves as the basis of a scale. The “Properties of Units and Standards” (PrUS) research project sets out from the commonplace observation that the units used for measuring value are specific rather than universal equivalents, and as such possess properties and affordances that hook up with people’s social worlds and material surroundings in various different ways. This, in turn, makes the choice of measure a consequential act with material, economic, and eventually more far-reaching socio-cultural effects. In short, the project assumes that there are no “neutral” units, and that by focusing specifically on the base units underlying numerical representation on any scale, we can call attention to both the material and the moral, political, even cosmological ideas linked to particular measures. A measuring scale highlights some phenomena but omits or obfuscates others: its deployment has consequences beyond the simple act of creating numbers.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 719 081,00
00014 Helsingin Yliopisto

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Manner-Suomi Helsinki-Uusimaa Helsinki-Uusimaa
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 719 081,00

Beneficiaries (1)