How Our Days Became Numbered: Risk And The Rise Of The Statistical Individual by Dan BoukHow Our Days Became Numbered: Risk And The Rise Of The Statistical Individual by Dan Bouk

How Our Days Became Numbered: Risk And The Rise Of The Statistical Individual

byDan Bouk

Hardcover | May 18, 2015

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Long before the age of "Big Data" or the rise of today's "self-quantifiers," American capitalism embraced "risk"--and proceeded to number our days. Life insurers led the way, developing numerical practices for measuring individuals and groups, predicting their fates, and intervening in their futures. Emanating from the gilded boardrooms of Lower Manhattan and making their way into drawing rooms and tenement apartments across the nation, these practices soon came to change the futures they purported to divine.

How Our Days Became Numbered tells a story of corporate culture remaking American culture--a story of intellectuals and professionals in and around insurance companies who reimagined Americans' lives through numbers and taught ordinary Americans to do the same. Making individuals statistical did not happen easily. Legislative battles raged over the propriety of discriminating by race or of smoothing away the effects of capitalism's fluctuations on individuals. Meanwhile, debates within companies set doctors against actuaries and agents, resulting in elaborate, secretive systems of surveillance and calculation.

Dan Bouk reveals how, in a little over half a century, insurers laid the groundwork for the much-quantified, risk-infused world that we live in today. To understand how the financial world shapes modern bodies, how risk assessments can perpetuate inequalities of race or sex, and how the quantification and claims of risk on each of us continue to grow, we must take seriously the history of those who view our lives as a series of probabilities to be managed.
Dan Bouk is assistant professor of history at Colgate University and a member of the Historicizing Big Data working group at the Max Planck Institute for History of Science.
Title:How Our Days Became Numbered: Risk And The Rise Of The Statistical IndividualFormat:HardcoverDimensions:304 pages, 9 × 6 × 1.1 inPublished:May 18, 2015Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022625917X

ISBN - 13:9780226259178

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Table of Contents

Preface: Strange Books
Chapter 1: Classing
Chapter 2: Fatalizing
Chapter 3: Writing
Chapter 4: Smoothing
Chapter 5: A Modern Conception of Death
Chapter 6: Valuing Lives, in Four Movements
Chapter 7: Failing the Future
Conclusion: Numbering in Layers
Epilogue: The Cards We Carry

Editorial Reviews

"How Our Days Became Numbered is a history of insurance, risk, and capitalism. Looking behind the veil at how private life insurance companies defined and priced 'life risks,' Bouk charts the deep philosophical questions, the inequalities and discrimination, the liberatory possibilities that intellectual pioneers struggled over as they built or fought the statistical infrastructure of risk. From the Panic of 1873 to the Great Depression, from life insurance to Social Security, Bouk charts the critical foundations of the world we live in today. Gripping, engaging, deeply human, and written with artistry and grace, Bouk's riveting history raises fundamental questions about corporate and state power in the reduction of individual human beings to a statistic, a risk--'the statistical individual' 'the statistical citizen'--and in the power those values have not just to predict the future, but to make it."