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Who Counts?: The Mathematics of Death and Life after Genocide

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In Who Counts? Diane M. Nelson explores the social life of numbers, teasing out the myriad roles math plays in Guatemalan state violence, economic exploitation, and disenfranchisement, as well as in Mayan revitalization and grassroots environmental struggles. In the aftermath of thirty-six years of civil war, to count—both numerically and in the sense of having value—is a In Who Counts? Diane M. Nelson explores the social life of numbers, teasing out the myriad roles math plays in Guatemalan state violence, economic exploitation, and disenfranchisement, as well as in Mayan revitalization and grassroots environmental struggles. In the aftermath of thirty-six years of civil war, to count—both numerically and in the sense of having value—is a contested and qualitative practice of complex calculations encompassing war losses, migration, debt, and competing understandings of progress. Nelson makes broad connections among seemingly divergent phenomena, such as debates over reparations for genocide victims, Ponzi schemes, and antimining movements. Challenging the presumed objectivity of Western mathematics, Nelson shows how it flattens social complexity and becomes a raced, classed, and gendered skill that colonial powers considered beyond the grasp of indigenous peoples. Yet the Classic Maya are famous for the precision of their mathematics, including conceptualizing zero long before Europeans. Nelson shows how Guatemala's indigenous population is increasingly returning to Mayan numeracy to critique systemic inequalities with the goal of being counted—in every sense of the word.  


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In Who Counts? Diane M. Nelson explores the social life of numbers, teasing out the myriad roles math plays in Guatemalan state violence, economic exploitation, and disenfranchisement, as well as in Mayan revitalization and grassroots environmental struggles. In the aftermath of thirty-six years of civil war, to count—both numerically and in the sense of having value—is a In Who Counts? Diane M. Nelson explores the social life of numbers, teasing out the myriad roles math plays in Guatemalan state violence, economic exploitation, and disenfranchisement, as well as in Mayan revitalization and grassroots environmental struggles. In the aftermath of thirty-six years of civil war, to count—both numerically and in the sense of having value—is a contested and qualitative practice of complex calculations encompassing war losses, migration, debt, and competing understandings of progress. Nelson makes broad connections among seemingly divergent phenomena, such as debates over reparations for genocide victims, Ponzi schemes, and antimining movements. Challenging the presumed objectivity of Western mathematics, Nelson shows how it flattens social complexity and becomes a raced, classed, and gendered skill that colonial powers considered beyond the grasp of indigenous peoples. Yet the Classic Maya are famous for the precision of their mathematics, including conceptualizing zero long before Europeans. Nelson shows how Guatemala's indigenous population is increasingly returning to Mayan numeracy to critique systemic inequalities with the goal of being counted—in every sense of the word.  

36 review for Who Counts?: The Mathematics of Death and Life after Genocide

  1. 5 out of 5

    Naomi

    I was really excited about this and the concept was fascinating in looking at the application of numbers in terms of who is counted and who does the counting. But I kept losing track of the point; the book can't quite seem to decide what it's goal is and what issues are the focus. Also I expected this to be more about genocide and less rambling about accounting theory and Mayan zero.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bahar

  3. 4 out of 5

    Britta

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    Kristen Laurene

  5. 4 out of 5

    Abigail

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    Megan

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    Jessica

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    Colin

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    Jacqueline

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jordan Mosley

  11. 5 out of 5

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    Megan

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  15. 4 out of 5

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    Elizabeth Burke

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    alex garcia

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    Octaviano Chavarín

  20. 4 out of 5

    Duke Press

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  22. 5 out of 5

    sam.c

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kristen Hiatt

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

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    Jessica Hawkins

  26. 5 out of 5

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  28. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Molina-Molina

  29. 4 out of 5

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  30. 5 out of 5

    Louise Jenkins

  31. 5 out of 5

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  32. 4 out of 5

    Maggie

  33. 5 out of 5

    Theresa Sondjo

  34. 5 out of 5

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  35. 4 out of 5

    Nikita

  36. 4 out of 5

    sidney

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