Critical Data & AI Lecture Series #3. Metrics and Markets: Data, Dataism and Neoliberal Sustainability

Lecture by Matthew Archer, Maastricht University.


Drawing on ethnographic research among sustainability professionals, this talk shows that the dominant approach to sustainability today revolves around the collection and analysis of quantitative data about social, environmental, and economic impacts. This reflects a ‘commensurative impulse’, a preoccupation among people working in sustainability to quantify and measure the innumerable dimensions of sustainability in order to compare them and, in many cases, to explicitly monetize them. Commensuration is at the heart of neoliberal governance, and this talk shows how contemporary understandings of sustainability reinforce market rule over nearly every aspect of our lives, from the air we breathe to the food we eat. It also discusses alternative conceptualizations of sustainability and the role of commensuration therein.


Matthew Archer is an assistant professor in the Department of Society Studies at Maastricht University. His research focuses on the role of technology and sustainability in the governance of global supply chains, most recently in the context of “sustainable mining.” He is the editor-in-chief of Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment and the author of Unsustainable: Measurement, Reporting and the Limits of Corporate Sustainability (2024, NYU Press).