Who Counts?: The Mathematics of Death and Life after Genocide
Diane M. Nelson is Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University and the author of A Finger in the Wound: Body Politics in Quincentennial Guatemala; she is also the author of Reckoning: The Ends of War in Guatemala and coeditor of War by Other Means: Aftermath in Post-Genocide Guatemala, both also published by Duke University Press.
This chapter engages the ground zero of genocide as well as zero as a source of enormous pride for postgenocide Mayan revitalization because their ancestors “discovered” it long before the Europeans. This matters because we all live in a world where number is the “modern fact,” closely linked to raced and gendered power inequalities, themselves connected to the assemblage that stabilized the “modern zero” of double-entry bookkeeping. The chapter connects the conditions of possibility for the mass murder of the war with the world system of accumulation by dispossession and with the way number is used to struggle for accountability and postwar repair by linking them to an ethnomathematics—mathematics practiced by an identifiable cultural group—in this case early modern Europeans. Rather than a simple “number is good because it’s true” versus “number is bad because it’s dehumanizing,” the chapter argues for exploring the epistemological (how do we know?) and institutional (how are we organized?) infrastructures that undergird pondering itself.