chapter  1
29 Pages

Social justice and institutionalized measurement

The great historian of measurement, Witold Kula, points out connections between justice and measurement that are easy to grasp. Imagine a farmer who is taxed a certain number of bushels of grain depending on the size of his land, yet each year both the size of the bushel and the measures of land size change to meet the needs of the local magistrate. Or imagine a marketplace where different vendors use different scales for weighing the same materials and change scales depending on who is buying. Consider being in a local community that has used traditional measurement practices for centuries in the distribution of land, only to have a centralized governmental body enforce the use of newer scientific measures. Where land was once distributed according to a measure that combined both size and probable yield, it is now distributed according to a universal standard for determining area, which is indifferent to the local variations in soil quality that accounted for the stability of the traditional practices. Finally, think about having properties of your own body and mind measured by officials who use the results to determine your eligibility for certain social benefits, yet these systems of measurement are demonstrably biased, scientifically specious, and susceptible to corruption.