Celia Lury, Helen Ward, Sophie Day

Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory, Accepted for publication July 2022

Scholarship on the history of political arithmetic highlights its significance for classical liberalism, a political philosophy in which subjects perceive themselves as autonomous individuals in an abstract system called society. This society and its component individuals became intelligible and governable in a deluge of printed numbers, assisted by the development of statistics, the emergence of a common space of measurement, and the calculation of probabilities.  Our proposal is that the categories, numbers, and norms of this political arithmetic have changed in a ubiquitous culture of personalisation. Today’s political arithmetic, we suggest, produces a different kind of society, what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls the ‘default social’. We address this new social as a ‘vague whole’ and propose that it is characterised by a continuous present, the contemporary form of simultaneity or way of being together that Benedict Anderson argued is fundamental to any kind of imagined community. Like the society imagined in the earlier arithmetic, this vague whole is an abstraction that obscures forms of stratification and discrimination.