Notes from: Standards and their Stories: How Quantifying, Classifying, and Formalizing Practices Shape Everyday Life

Below are some of my notes from Susan Leigh Star and Martha Lampland’s “Reckoning with Standards” in Standards and their Stories: How Quantifying, Classifying, and Formalizing Practices Shape Everyday Life. I’m trying to post my notes from publications, even when the notes are incomplete and only on selected quotes, because it’s helpful for me in that I am more likely to see the notes in new contexts in a productive manner.  “Reckoning with Standards” is useful for my thinking on standards, structures, systems, and infrastructure, and someone else may also find these selected quote notes useful as well.
Star, Susan Leigh & Lampland, Martha. “Reckoning with Standards.”  Eds. Lampland, Martha, & Star, Susan Leigh (2009). Standards and their stories: how quantifying, classifying, and formalizing practices shape everyday life. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Pages 3-24.
Page 4-5:

“One of the results found across these chapters is that standards, as with all similar forms of compression and representation of actions: [start page 5]

  • Are nested inside one another.
  • Are distributed unevenly across the sociocultural landscape.
  • Are relative to communities of practice; that is, one person’s well-fitting standard may be another’s impossible nightmare.
  • Are increasingly linked to and integrated with one another across many organizations, nations, and technical systems.
  • Codify, embody, or prescribe ethics and values, often with great consequences for individuals (consider standardized testing in schools, for example).”

page 11: “The Society of People Interested in Boring Things”
Page 14:

Standards and “irreversibility” from Callon (1998) for “functional irreversibility” with the example of how it isn’t really reversible to flip the meaning of a green light and red light for traffic now because so entrenched.
“A related maturation and reification process that leads, over time, to complex recursive standards is that developed by Wimsatt (1998) under the rubric “generative entrenchment.” Small changes made early in the life of any developmental system will ramify throughout the growth of the system, becoming increasingly more difficult to eradicate.”

Page 15:

“The iron cage of bureaucracy has perhaps become a sociotechnical cage-sticky and partly binding bit also complexly structured with information architectures and human behavior. This stands in contrast to current neoinstitutionalists’ arguments that change proceeds linearly and along traceable tracks.”

Page 18:

“Unearthing the narratives behind the boring aspects of infrastructure does, however, reveal (often in a very direct way) how knowledge is constrained, built, and preserved.”

Page 22-23: Difficulty with standards in that work can be made invisible or, when made visible/explicit, can become subject to surveillance and controls:

“Much infrastructure is marked with this sort of invisible trouble. In academic departments, the question of what work should be visible and what should count for promotions and tenure often brings this to a head. Researchers who develop large information systems, performing and visual arts, those whose work takes a [page 23] long time to fruition (such as architects) are often at a disadvantage with promotion committees, which may not be able to evaluate or understand the invisible work that goes into research but does not culminate in a book or article in a refereed journal. Similar problems occur in promotion standards or standards of conduct in large commercial firms.”

Page 23:

“Sorting through the richness of things and ideas to create an archive necessarily raises the question of choice and the politics of representation. […] [impossibility of keeping all, politics of what’s kept and how represented, Douglas Lenat, the Cyc project, Bowker 2006] These politics are irrevocably central to constructing archival projects.”