History, philosophy and sociology of measurement
27-29 Jun 2018 Paris (France)

Call for contributions

Measurement at the Crossroads is the third interdisciplinary conference to explore the history and philosophy of measurement after Dimensions of Measurement in Bielefeld (2013) and The Making of Measurement in Cambridge (2015). The organizers of the third conference, which will take place on 27-29 June 2018, in Paris, invite scholars interested in the history, philosophy and sociology of science to address questions related to measurement across disciplines ranging from the natural sciences to the life and human sciences.

The recent revival of the philosophy of measurement in the early 2000s appears to be instrumental in overcoming the tensions that obstructed science studies during much of the second half of the twentieth century. The Paris conference aspires to promote the new ways of addressing issues of quantification and measurement that are now emerging and promising to bridge the various gulfs – theoretical versus practical, descriptive versus normative – that have divided the philosophical, historical and sociological approaches to science. It is now recognized that questions of quantification transcend the earlier focus on meaning and representation which formerly attracted the attention of philosophers of science, and that these questions benefit from investigation alongside the means and processes that enable scientists, and human agents in general, to agree on their measurement results and make them reliable bases for decision and action. The resulting shift of attention towards the uses of measurement results in inference and prediction places the new agenda of philosophy of measurement at the crossroads of conceptual, epistemic, historical, material, technological and institutional issues.

The 2018 conference comes at a time when the field of metrology is about to reach an important turning point with the reform of the International System of Units (SI) that is to be announced by the end of 2018. With Measurement at the Crossroads we aspire to connect the discussions developing in the emerging field of history and philosophy of measurement with some of the issues arising from this major reshaping of the field of metrology. Special attention will thus be given to issues pertaining to the formation of systems of units and standards, as well as to related institutional matters. The conference will build upon the two former ones by inscribing these issues more explicitly in a world-wide and a long-term perspective. In addition to the enquiries related to the contemporary SI reform, time will therefore be allotted for studies concerned with how measurement units have been worked out in the past, from Antiquity to today’s reform, in different regions of the world. This will offer a cultural-anthropological outlook on metrology.


Some of the questions listed below might be helpful to guide contributors without in any way constraining them:

Quantification and measurement practices

  • Is it possible to devise a conception of quantity suited for all domains of science, and what are the specific difficulties raised by the definition of properties and quantities in the human sciences?
  • How can one deal with scientific error, especially experimental error? How can scientists evaluate uncertainty and risk relative to experimental results and their uses?
  • How can the study of measurement shed new light on the relations between theory, models, experiment and instrumentation?
  • How can philosophy of measurement contribute to classical problems of the philosophy of science? (e.g.: realism, conventionalism and operationalism in science)

Units, standards and instruments

  • How did numbers, units and standards become separated in the course of history, and how did units become coordinated to one another through metrological systems of units?
  • How do standards contribute to the stabilization of facts? How do they affect human action and self-perception?
  • How do the descriptive and the normative intertwine in measurement?
  • What are the reasons behind the project of the new SI? What will be its conceptual, practical, technical and institutional consequences?

Communities, institutions, normativity and trust

  • What social and institutional constraints are required to implement a global network of communicable, comparable and reliable measurement results?
  • How can decisions be taken on the basis of measurement under conditions of uncertainty?
  • What is the role of trust in the practice of measurement and in the assessment of scientific knowledge?
  • Can the philosophical, historical and sociological enquiry into measurement make us more aware of our responsibilities in the development of our technological society?



The conference will host individual talks and symposiums (groups of 3 talks). The talks will be 40 minutes long, questions included.

Submissions should be PDF files blinded for peer review:

  • The individual contributors are invited to submit an abstract of 500 words.
  • Contributors who wish to propose a symposium should submit in the same file a 500-word synopsis that includes the title and theme of the symposium and a 500-word abstract for each talk in the symposium.

To submit abstracts go to “Submit an abstract” in the menu of the website.



Deadline for submission: January 5, 2018.
Notification of acceptance: January 30, 2018.
Registration: will open in February 2018.
Conference: June 27-29, 2018.

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