Publication Details

Matheson, G. (2008). I can't believe it's not measurement: the legacy of operationism in social-scientific uses of numbers. The Annual Conference of The Australian Sociological Association. Reimagining Sociology (p. [9]). Melbourne, Australia: The Australian Sociological Association.


What is called measurement in human sciences such as sociology is different from other uses of the term, embracing not only quantification in the strict sense, but also all kinds of scaling, ranking and even classification per se. This paper considers such habits as a legacy of the ‘Operational’ measurement theory of S. S. Stevens, wherein science meant measurement, but concepts (e.g., measurement) meant whatever we all agreed they did. Coupled with a broader cultural tendency to privilege mind over matter, this has led to great efforts to quantify the intangible, possibly at the expense of sociologically-relevant material factors which better lend themselves to it.

Link to publisher version (URL)

The Australian Sociological Association Conference