10. An Ethnography of Numbers

  1. D. Douglas Caulkins2 and
  2. Ann T. Jordan3
  1. Daniel Neyland

Published Online: 2 OCT 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781118325513.ch10

A Companion to Organizational Anthropology

A Companion to Organizational Anthropology

How to Cite

Neyland, D. (2012) An Ethnography of Numbers, in A Companion to Organizational Anthropology (eds D. D. Caulkins and A. T. Jordan), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Chichester, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781118325513.ch10

Editor Information

  1. 2

    Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell, USA

  2. 3

    University of North Texas, USA

Author Information

  1. Goldsmiths College, University of London, UK

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 2 OCT 2012
  2. Published Print: 29 OCT 2012

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9781405199827

Online ISBN: 9781118325513



  • ethnography;
  • ethnomethodology;
  • organizational numbers;
  • recycling system;
  • waste management


This chapter explores the extent to which ethnography of numbers can aid organization thinking in terms of numerical evidence. Ethnography of numbers, in this chapter, acts as a caution to an organization overly focused on the production of numerical evidence as an explanation of social action. The chapter begins with a brief analysis of ethnographic approaches to numbers. It then presents an ethnographic study of a numbering system (based on scoring household recycling boxes). This draws on research carried out in one city in the United Kingdom, which sought to introduce a numerical system for counting how the local population managed its waste. The chapter concludes with an analysis of the ways in which ethnographies of numbers can contribute to organizations' evidential work.