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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : African Studies

Postgraduate Course: Ruling the World By Numbers (AFRI11009)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe use of numbers, performance indicators and benchmarks have grown exponentially over the last two decades, particularly in the field of international politics and development. Indicators are now firmly established as a distinct mode of global governance. The process of numbering involves translating complex phenomena into numerical values. The procedure converts what might otherwise be highly contentious normative agendas into numbers that appear technocratic and objective. The politics of numbers has implications for global governance, and particularly so for making norms, rules and regulations in the fields of International Development and International Relations. Goals, indicators and targets has become an intrinsic part of the development community, as formulated most recently in the Sustainable Development Goals, and before that with the Millennium Development Goals. This course provides a critical examination of the implications of ruling the world by numbers.

Course description This course provides a rigorous and reflective approach to how numbers are used to formulate and evaluate policy. Now more than ever, numbers are being used not only to get knowledge about phenomena but also to make decisions.

We will also study state formation, and how states project and get information about themselves. Particularly the course focuses on how international organizations like the IMF and the World Bank uses numbers, and how goals, indicators and targets has become an intrinsic part of the development community, as formulated most recently in the Sustainable Development Goals. Students are invited to make particular case studies that are particularly relevant to their own research and interest.

Lecture topics:

1. Ruling the world by numbers: introduction
2. States and statistics: Why do states count?
3. Auditing the world: The IMF
4. Counting the poor: The World Bank
5. A world that counts: from millennium development goals (MDGs) to sustainable development goals (SDGs)
6. Poor Numbers? Statistical capacity in low income countries
7. Governance matters: democracy by numbers
8. Correlates of war: Studying war and peace by numbers
9. Evidence based policy : Knowledge and governance requirements
10. Contesting poor numbers: qualitative and quantitative research.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate critical knowledge and understanding of the key, concepts, definitions and measurement most central to studies of the economics and politics development, particularly in Africa;
  2. Apply the knowledge, skills, and understanding gained in the course through academic and day-to-day engagement with research and news about new development initiatives, and in particular engage with the Sustainable Development Goals agenda;
  3. Critically analyse, synthesize, and evaluate research and contemporary debates about measurement and the use of development statistics to make informed opinions and analyses;
  4. Communicate through empirically grounded and theoretically informed written work and oral presentations, their knowledge of how the world is ruled by numbers;
  5. Demonstrate autonomy, accountability, and initiative in their ability to evaluate claims made with support in numbers, through independent research and source criticism.
Reading List
Jerven, Morten (2013): Poor Numbers How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do about It. Cornell: Cornell University Press
Cooley, Alexander and Snyder, Jack (2015): Ranking the World: Grading States as a Tool of Global Governance. New York: Cambridge University Press
Porter, Theodore M. (1995): Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life. Princeton: Princeton University Press
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills By the end of the course, students will be equipped with new skills in:
1. Synthesising and analysing empirical and theoretical material from a variety of sources;
2. Examining, using and assessing evidence in support of explanatory and normative claims;
3. Developing and evaluating arguments that take different kinds of social complexity into account;
4. Exercising informed independent thought and critical judgment.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserProf Morten Jerven
Tel: (0131 6)51 5355
Course secretaryMiss Becky Guthrie
Tel: (0131 6)51 1659
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