A History of the Modern Fact: Problems of Knowledge in the by Mary Poovey

By Mary Poovey

How did the actual fact develop into modernity's so much favourite unit of information? How did description come to appear separable from thought within the precursors of economics and the social sciences?

Mary Poovey explores those questions in A historical past of the fashionable Fact, ranging throughout an amazing array of texts and ideas from the book of the 1st British guide on double-entry bookkeeping in 1588 to the institutionalization of statistics within the 1830s. She exhibits how the creation of systematic wisdom from descriptions of saw details motivated govt, how numerical illustration turned the privileged automobile for producing worthwhile proof, and the way belief—whether figured as credits, credibility, or credulity—remained necessary to the creation of knowledge.

Illuminating the epistemological stipulations that experience made smooth social and monetary wisdom attainable, A historical past of the trendy Fact offers vital contributions to the historical past of political inspiration, economics, technology, and philosophy, in addition to to literary and cultural criticism.

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D l y h 'corne so problematic that a radical reconsideration seems necessary; this 1 ( " ( ( ) l lsid -rat i o n l1light alter the hierarchy of kinds of knowledge, or it might in­ I l I )( i t l C . :I n e w l l10de of knowledge production or a new object of analysis. In ,I l lY ':I Sl', t i l . re onsi dcration often takes the form of a return to some existing 1 1" \ 1 . w i t i c l t ) I I 'C I l iad ' sense but n o longer does. I n other words, it often takes 22 C H A P T E R O N E the form of a misreading that, when read retrospectively and in relation to the earlier text, looks like a solution to a problem that was never posed in the terms in which a solution is being offered.

1 5 This distinction constitutes the telling point of Dear's analysis: the singular nl periences or observed particulars that natural philosophers began to value in I l i e seventeenth century were not evident, because they were neither signifiers ( ) r- a nything nor self-evidently valuable; only when such particulars were inter­ preted as evidence did they seem valuable enough to collect, because only then did they acquire meaning or even, I contend, identity as facts. lr Jnd a particular that constitutes evidence helps us understand what I am call­ I I lg the peculiarity of the modern fact.

I have chosen not to limit this book to one or even a number of dis­ courses, because doing so has led many Foucauldians to focus exclusively on one kind of rationality-say, political rationality-despite Foucault's insistence that one must trace the "divergence, the distances, the oppositions, the differ­ ences, the relations of various . . "2 8 Limiting oneself to one ratio­ nality respects the outcome of that long (and uneven) process of disciplinary disaggregation that has created the modern, functionally differentiated do­ mains; but respecting this outcome without understanding the historical process of disaggregation that has produced it tends to obscure the traces of likeness that linger in modern discourses.

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