CALL FOR PAPERS: The Making of Measurement

CRASSH, University of Cambridge, 23-4 July 2015

Proposals are invited for individual papers and sessions for The Making of Measurement, an interdisciplinary conference that seeks to consolidate an emerging international community of scholars interested in the history, philosophy and/or sociology of measurement. The conference will be held at the University of Cambridge, hosted by the Centre for Research in Arts Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DT, on the 23rd and 24th July, 2015. Keynote addresses will be delivered by Nancy Cartwright, Terry Quinn, and Graeme Gooday, and in addition a number of sessions with contributed papers will be organized. The conference webpage is located at:

Inevitably, tensions exist between methodologically-diverse approaches across the fields of philosophy, history, and sociology of science, particularly with respect to whether measurement outcomes reflect facts about nature, or about human tools and concepts. An important aim of this conference is to bring together scholars to review recent advances and to identify key issues for further development.

This decade is also seeing dramatic changes in the metric system because four scientific units are being redefined in terms of fundamental constants; the contemporary relevance of a systematic approach in the humanities to the study of measurement is therefore particularly strong.

The new wave of humanistic scholarship concerning measurement is still in an embryonic stage and no agreed general conceptual frameworks have emerged. All proposals relating to the making of measurement will therefore be considered, although contributors might choose to address one or more of the questions listed under the following themes:

Philosophies of Measurement: Under what conditions is the world justifiably deemed quantifiable? How do existing philosophies of measurement, for example operationalism, fit specific historical cases? Can measurements of the properties of macroscopic bodies and microscopic entities be analyzed in the same way? When measuring instruments disagree, is it always possible to ascertain which one is in error? Do the relationships between measurement and theory in the natural sciences hold true for the social and human sciences? How does measurement function in areas of scientific enquiry where entities under study have a dubious ontological grounding?

Units, Standards, and Metrology
: Are measurement standards accurate by virtue of fact or convention? What are the social, political, and scientific aims for which units and standards are established? What are the means of their establishment? What impact have specialized metrological institutions had on processes of standardization?

Practices of Measurement: What kinds of conceptual approaches, methodological and mathematical tools, and practical steps have been necessary for ensuring sufficient reliability and precision? How have these varied from sites ranging from the elite laboratory to the workshop, factory, and home? What kinds of exchange (of personnel, instruments, apparatus, techniques, and so on) have taken place between these sites? What determines judgments of the level of acceptable error, and how do these relate to the various purposes of measurement, and economic and technological development?

Proposals for individual papers and sessions are both welcome. Sessions comprising researchers from different stages in their career are encouraged. Proposals for individual papers should include an abstract of up to 500 words. Sessions in a standard format, of up to two hours, should consist of three or four papers, with or without a commentator; proposals for such sessions should include an overall description as well as a 500-word abstract for each paper. All proposals should include the names and institutional affiliations of all participants, and contact details (including e-mail address) of one person who will serve as the main point of contact.

The conference organizers would be delighted to receive proposals for innovative and unconventional session formats. With this in mind, we offer the following templates:
Classic work: contributors prepare responses to a classic work before opening up discussion to the audience.

Review of the field: between them, contributors offer a critical review of a particular aspect of the field for scrutiny by the audience.
Pre-circulation: contributors pre-circulate their draft papers, leaving the majority of the session for open-ended discussion.
Round table: panelists present briefly on a prescribed theme and then discuss questions from the audience (but round table sessions can take many formats).

The formats above, however, are only suggestions, and proposals of any format, including ‘conventional’ ones and adaptations of the above, will be considered on equal footing. Please send all proposals to Dr. Daniel Jon Mitchell ( and feel free to contact the organizers with any questions.

The deadline for proposals is 28th February 2015.

Students will receive a discount on the registration fee and may be granted travel bursaries depending on the availability of funds.

Daniel Jon Mitchell
Eran Tal
Hasok Chang

Dr. Eran Tal
Marie Curie Research Fellow
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
University of Cambridge