Faculty Fellow, Contested Data

Dan Bouk

Dan Bouk studies the history of personal data.

Dan Bouk researches the history of bureaucracies, quantification, and other modern things shrouded in cloaks of boringness. He studied computational mathematics as an undergraduate at Michigan State, before earning a PhD in history from Princeton University. His work investigates the ways that corporations, states, and the experts they employ have used, abused, made, and re-made the categories that structure our daily experiences of being human.

His first book, How Our Days Became Numbered: Risk and the Rise of the Statistical Individual, explored the spread into ordinary Americans’ lives of the U.S. life insurance industry’s methods for quantifying people, discriminating by race, justifying inequality, and thinking statistically. His recent writings put today’s political and economic values of personal data in a much wider historical context and also explore the ways social scientists working with corporations and governments have rationalized the life cycle (and helped invent the “Baby Boomer”!).

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