How surveys expressed the USA: A study of government statistics during the interwar period
My project here at MPIWG is to turn my Ph.D. dissertation, which was finished in 2001, into a book under contract with INED press in France. The provisional title of the book reads Comment les sondages ont exprimé l’Amérique. Une histoire des enquêtes partielles aux Etats-Unis pendant l’Entre-deux-guerre.
The purpose of the book is twofold. On the one hand, I am interested in the huge growth of statistical surveys realized by the US government during the interwar period. I am looking particularly close at those produced by the Department of Agriculture and by the Department of Labour. My aim is to analyze how new methods - and particularly random sampling - were developed during this period. On the other hand, my study shows how this new source of information about the nation was related to a new way of defining the nation (as there was the need of a new statistical definition of the US to make these surveys possible) and of governing the nation: the New Deal would not have become what is was without the new type of data; my book serves to explain why.
Finally, by showing how a new way of producing knowledge was linked to a new type of government, I characterize, by the means of the concept of expression, the precise link between knowledge and government. I argue that statistics and government have expressed a new America.