Wendy Nelson Espeland

Northwestern University

Wendy N. Espeland, associate professor of sociology at Northwestern University, will write a book examining the social significance of commensuration -- the invention of a common system of measurement and evaluation for things that would not be directly comparable otherwise. Prices, cost-benefit ratios, and utility rankings are three familiar forms of commensuration, making it possible for heterogeneous goods to be traded off against each other. Espeland will show how commensuration penetrates deeply into every aspect of modern life, begetting new commodities and products, creating markets, and guiding public policy. Espeland will also explore the limitations and blind spots of commensuration, warning that when we cannot smoothly account for the value of something, its worth often goes unrecognized.


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