Denigrating by Numbers: Quantification, Statistics and Territorial Stigma


A vibrant literature on territorial stigma has emerged over the past decade, detailing how particular neighbourhoods or districts have been discursively constructed as dangerous, depraved, deprived, dilapidated, and so on. Amidst this focus on the discursive, the role of numbers has been largely overlooked. In this article I argue that quantitative practices and statistical representations are central to the production of territory and to territorial stigmatization. I demonstrate how problem territories are produced through quantitative practices that reproduce forms of denigration and how statistical representations obfuscate the culpability of markets and the state and legitimize unjust interventions. I elaborate these arguments via three recent examples from public housing policy, governance and discourse in Sydney. Statistics have been deployed to portray tenants as undeserving of either the real estate they inhabit or any assistance whatsoever, and estates as pathological territories that cause disadvantage. Such representations have obscured how neoliberalization has caused such so‐called problems, and have thus legitimated privatization, displacement and a punitive policy turn. I call for greater attention to the role of quantification and statistics among scholars of stigma—not only through deconstruction and critique, but also through strategic deployment in aid of struggles against stigma.