CRCC member – Brendan Lawson – publishes “The Life of a Number”

Do numbers have a life of their own or do we give them meaning? How does data play a role in constructing people’s perceptions of the world around them? How far can we trust numbers to speak truth to power? In an increasingly datafied world, these questions need answers.

Lecturer in Media and Communication Dr Brendan Lawson aims to shed light on this new dawn of data in his new book ‘The Life of a Number’. This exciting project traces the life of eight numbers – from “One billion items of PPE” to a data visualisation of daily cases – to help the audience navigate the data deluge of the 21st century.

According to Brendan Lawson, the author, the book “provides both empirical and theoretical insights to the meaning of data in the modern world by bringing together a range of disciplines and fields – including Media and Communication, History and Philosophy of Statistics and Critical Data Studies – into a methodological framework that sees number being created, gain meaning and drop from public discourse.”

One of the key concepts, he explains, is the idea of ‘data bounds’.

“Certain ideas are bound by datasets and statistics, such as the way the economy has come to be represented by Gross Domestic Product and inflation. In these settings, data is the logical reference point to discuss, think and practice. We become bound by data.” 

The book has already been well-received by notable academics in the field.

“This fascinating book provides two important interventions. First, it provides a critical toolkit for making sense of how quantitative data are used to understand social phenomena. Second, it provides insight into how statistics drove policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. An engaging critique of evidence-based journalism and policy making.” Rob Kitchin, Maynooth University.

If you want to listen to Brendan talk about the book – alongside other projects – you can listen to a recent podcast on The Trumanitarian:

The book is now available to purchase from Bristol University Press.

Dr Lawson was awarded his PhD from the University of Leeds in 2020. He has worked on a number of temporary contracts at Loughborough University from 2021 to 2023. Last year, he was appointed as a permanent Lecturer in the Communication and Media Department. His research focuses on the way numbers become meaningful in society, with a recent shift towards climate change.


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