Touching numbers

Sophia Davis, Catherine Eagleton*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The concepts of numbers, numeracy, and numerical operations were redefined by the rise to prominence of the hand-held electronic calculator. The calculator was linked to futuristic and technological visions, while at the same time strongly associated with the body and enmeshed in its physicality. Descriptions of touch placed calculators firmly in the position of a friendly companion to the user, a notion of companionship that was elaborated but also disputed in references to the sometimes ambiguous relationship between a calculator and its user. At the same time, the instant numeracy offered by possession of this new technology opened up debates about the nature of calculation and the importance and methods of number education. The relationship of the calculator to its user was left ambiguous, and between these blurry lines the calculator was able to assert its role as an essential mediator between the user and any possibility of being numerate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)192-197
Number of pages6
JournalAnthropological Theory
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2010


  • calculator
  • number
  • numeracy
  • social
  • technology
  • user


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