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8 - Scales and Scale-Making: Connecting Sites

from Part III - Sites

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 June 2019

Susan Gal
Affiliation:
University of Chicago
Judith T. Irvine
Affiliation:
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
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Summary

Scales are humanly made. Scale-making starts with a semiotic practice of comparison among sites, connecting them in an ideological project, defining what aspects are worth comparing, what dimensions, in what context. Scale-making practices organize comparisons in different ways, ranging from the impromptu to the conventional. We consider relations of inclusion and processes of (Peircean) abduction. Scale-making is sometimes contestable, as when some linguists say a language includes “its” dialects while other linguists disagree. Regarding models of scalar comparison, we propose two kinds: perspectival (multiple points of view are built into the model) and nonperspectival (claimed as “objective,” erasing the human interests that created the scaling). In “objective” models, phenomena are first measured against a standard unit, then the measurements are ranked. The results are socially dramatic. We discuss how savants in the French Revolution attempted to standardize, systematize, and centralize measures for many different dimensions, to further national unity and political control. Finally, we discuss the logic of arguments for incommensurability, which are also matters of scaling.

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Chapter
Information
Signs of Difference
Language and Ideology in Social Life
, pp. 217 - 242
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2019

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