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8.6 Concluding Remarks

In previous sections of this chapter, we have seen that scientific arguments may not be universal. Considering the context behind a phenomenon is, therefore, important. However, some may insist that using science, particularly in relation to numbers, results in an objective and value-neutral analysis, not only for natural phenomena but also for social phenomena. Before concluding this chapter, I would like to discuss the issue of numbers.

Peoples tend to believe that numbers are value neutral. However, the anthropological view on numbers questions such a belief. [1] Take the example of a number that signifies a measurement of length. The fathom is a scale unit of length. Originally, it conveyed a physical distance that corresponded to the length of a man's outstretched arms. Consequently, numbers measured using the (original) fathom are person dependent and, therefore, incomparable beyond a specific person.

Nevertheless, such numbers may still be significant when they are used for a particular purpose such as making clothes and tools and maintaining habits and customs. After the introduction of standardization, a length was measured according to the metric system. At present, one fathom is defined as 1.8288 m. Although we are able to compare the numbers measured using fathoms, standardization strips away a context and some of the physicality of a measured object from numbers.

The anthropological view on numbers provides two lessons for an analysis of big data, which has become a buzz word during the past half-decade. The first relates to the fact that the analysis of numbers and the analysis of data differ, because the contexts of the numbers used may have been removed. The second concerns observation. The numbers measured by observation may not be value neutral if there was some cultural basis for the observation, referred to as the culture-ladenness of observation.

This chapter has demonstrated the importance of employing anthropological methods in social science studies and particularly in business studies.Anthropological methods are evidently valuable for recovering the context that is stripped away and unavailable for scientific observation which we conventionally use. The methods also open the way to understanding phenomena not as causal structures based on reductionism but as total entities.

  • [1] For a study on the anthropology of numbers, see Crump (1990).
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