The Social Life of Numbers: A Quechua Ontology of Numbers and Philosophy of Arithmetic

October 31, 2020
The Social Life of Numbers: A Quechua Ontology of Numbers and Philosophy of Arithmetic

Unravelling all the mysteries of the khipu - the knotted stringdevice used by the Inka to record both statistical data andnarrative accounts of myths, histories, and genealogies - willrequire an understanding of how number values and relations mayhave been used to encode information on social, familial, andpolitical relationships and structures. This is the problem GaryUrton tackles in his path-finding study of the origin, meaning, andsignificance of numbers and the philosophical principles underlyingthe practice of arithmetic among Quechua-speaking peoples of theAndes.Based on fieldwork in communities around Sucre, in south-centralBolivia, Urton argues that the origin and meaning of numbers wereand are conceived of by Quechua-speaking peoples in ways similar totheir ideas about, and formulations of, gender, age, and socialrelations.He also demonstrates that their practice of arithmetic isbased on a well-articulated body of philosophical principles andvalues that reflects a continuous attempt to maintain balance,harmony, and equilibrium in the material, social, and moral spheresof community life."This is an extraordinary book. It is easily readable even forthe non-mathematically inclined and non-Andeanists. It deals withissues of why one counts, what is counted, and how arithmeticoperations are used in social life." Source: Hispanic AmericanHistorical Review"This book is of virtuoso quality in ethnographic research andcontains important fresh insights in every section, many of themtouching whole areas of inquiry that nobody else has even tried toprobe.... This is a major work by a major ethnographer." Author:Frank Salomon, Professor of Anthropology, University ofWisconsin-Madison