EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution

(P025)

Governing by numbers: audit culture, rankings and the New World (Re)order

Location A-242
Date and Start Time 31 July, 2014 at 14:00

Convenors

Cris Shore (University of Auckland) email
Susan Wright (Århus University) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

With the extraordinary rise of indicators and rankings an entire new industry has arisen geared to producing calculating, responsibilized, self-managed organisations and subjects. We examine and theorize the spread of measurements and their social, ethical, and governmental effects.

Long Abstract

Statistics and performance indicators have long served as instruments of state power. However, a key development over the past three decades has been the extraordinary rise of indicators and rankings and their involvement in new forms of governance. These issues relate to the conference theme for whereas many contemporary developments enhance collaboration and intimacy, audit culture emphasises competition, individualisation, governing-at-a-distance and de-professionalisation that undermines collaboration.

Audit regimes increasingly operate beyond the nation-state. Reducing and governing complex processes to numbers and rankings is a defining feature of our times. Everything from schools, corruption, Quality of Life Years, Gross National Happiness, and the performance of doctors is now measured and ranked in competitive league tables. An entire industry of measuring and ranking organisations has arisen geared to producing calculating, responsibilized, self-managed subjects. Audit and ranking as instruments for promoting quality and efficiency are also linked to a new ethics of accountability 'where the financial and the moral meet' (Strathern 2000:1). This panel invites anthropologists to examine enumeration and ranking technologies and their societal effects. We ask:

1. How should we theorize the effects of measuring, ranking and auditing?

2. Who are the 'rankers'? How have they spread their practices? How do they operate?

3. When measurements and rankings are introduced into ever-more areas of professional and everyday life, what impacts does this have?

4. What rationales drive governments and managers to employ audit technologies?

5. Where are these developments leading and how might they be contested?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Audit culture revisited: indicators, rankings and the New World Order

Authors: Cris Shore (University of Auckland)  email
Susan Wright (Århus University)  email

Short Abstract

Quantification and statistics have long served as key instruments of governance and modern state power yet the rise of audit culture is now a truly global phenomenon. We explore how new systems of measurement and international rankings are increasingly producing a form of global governmentality.

Long Abstract

Quantification and statistics have long been recognized as key instruments of governance and modern state power yet increasingly we are witnessing the rise of new systems of measurement and global rankings that operate both above and within the nation-state. Audit culture, it seems, is an increasingly global phenomenon. Drawing on a range of international examples this paper sets out to explore - and theorise - the rise of audit culture as a defining feature of modernity. More specifically, we focus on the ways in which international rankings are creating new domains of knowledge and power and a new system of global governmentality. We ask, why have performance indicators and global rankings become such a populist project and with what effects? And how is the current obsession with developing ever-more pervasive systems for measuring and ranking people and things changing societies?

Measuring corruption: the rise and continued hegemony of the corruption perceptions index

Author: Steven Sampson  email

Short Abstract

This paper compares Transparency International’s ranking of corrupt countries, the Corruption Perceptions Index, with lesser-known corruption indices of ‘state capture’. Our focus on the high impact 'success stories' has led us to overlook asking: why do so many other indices and rankings fail?

Long Abstract

The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), a ranking of least-to-most corruption countries first released by the NGO Transparency International in 1995, has become the most well-known measure of corruption, and the key branding icon for Transparency International (TI). Invariably northwest Europe and Australia are at the top of the list as least corrupt, authoritarian transition countries in the middle and various fragile or war-torn states at the very bottom. Despite many critiques from within and outside TI in validity and methodology, the CPI has maintained its place as the undisputed leader in measuring corruption and governance. It is used as a basis for determining foreign aid and for international loan and risk investment decisions. Several competing indices exist which try to measure not perceptions but actual practices of governance and corruption, but none of them match the CPI for impact and use. Why and how has the CPI persisted? This paper compares the CPI with other less well known indices, such as the Bribe Payers and State Capture indices. We need to answer a question of not just why the CPI has been so successful, but why so many other indices and rankings fail. Analyzing successful impact is easy. But failure of impact or indifference. How do we explain this? The author has carried out research on the anticorruption industry (anticorruptionism), and on Transparency International as an NGO.

Swings of the pendulum: research ethics and the poles of audit and professionalism

Author: Rachel Douglas-Jones (IT University Copenhagen)  email

Short Abstract

Tracing ethics: professionalism to audit to professionalism again? I use my fieldwork with ethics committee auditors to explore the dissonance between an ethics configured as paperworked bureaucracy, and an ethics designed to appeal to duty and the professional self.

Long Abstract

Ethics moved in the 1980s from a set of professional standards to a process external to medicine itself, drawing in techniques of audit from the era and leading to a significant shift in the locus of governance of biomedicine. Configured as ethical review, this externalized form of ethics grew in scope and format, and throughout recent decades has become integrated into biomedical research infrastructure established for international, multi-sited clinical trials.

This paper draws on multi-sited ethnographic research with a NGO working to build the capacity of research ethics committees in Asia through training and accreditation. In addition to examining how the accreditation process is conducted and legitimized, I use my fieldwork with these assessors to explore the dissonance between an ethics configured as paperworked bureaucracy, and an ethics designed to appeal to duty and the professional self.

Structured in three swings of the pendulum, I trace broad eras of ethics: an ethics of the professionalised self, an ethics of the audited self, and an ethics maturing from the disappointments of ethics as a pre-emptive audit that now (re)turns to self-management as governance. Exploring the dual rise in 'evidence based ethics' and 'integrity', I suggest that in this clash of contemporary values we find not only new calculations of audit practices, but also reiterations of previous states of responsibilization and accountability.

Undermining sovereignty: ranking risk and seeking opportunity at the resource frontier

Author: Paul Gilbert (University of Brighton)  email

Short Abstract

Based on an ethnography of the mineral exploration economy, this paper identifies continuities between colonial cartography, military mapping practices, and political risk rankings in the contemporary mining industry. These rankings undermine efforts to carve out spaces of resource sovereignty.

Long Abstract

This paper is based on ethnography carried out within the cultural circuit of capitalism that constitutes the junior mining sector. It begins by tracing the interweaving biographies of leading security consultants, political risk insurance providers, and mineral explorers in London's square mile. The paper then moves to take a look inside the high-end briefings and "thought leadership" seminars organized jointly by the City's mineral explorers and political risk insurers. The attention of those in pursuit of new mining opportunities is primarily organized by an assemblage of political risk mapping services and risk perception survey providers. The most widely cited among the industry's many political risk rankings is based on a measure of "policy potential." The inverse of this policy potential is a perceived tendency towards "resource nationalism." Resource nationalism here designates any effort to carve out spaces of resource sovereignty in opposition to globalizing market forces. I identify commonalities between colonial-era cartography, military-style strategic mapping, and the production and reception of popular political risk metrics in the contemporary mining market. The Comaroffs (2012) have suggested that increasingly "it is the so-called 'Global South' that affords privileged insight into the workings of the world at large." My ethnography suggests however, that while the mining market may have a renewed interest in opening up "frontiers" in "unexplored" parts of the South, the epicentre of the information architecture through which resource jurisdictions (and their legislators) are ranked is highly resistant to re-ordering.

'Character matters': how do measures of non-cognitive skills shape understandings of social mobility in the global North and South?

Author: Laura Camfield (University of East Anglia)  email

Short Abstract

The paper highlights growing interest in measures of non-cognitive skill and the way these are shaping debate on poverty and social mobility in the global North and South, drawing on examples from an entrepreneurship programme in South Africa and the 'Character and Resilience manifesto' in the UK.

Long Abstract

In this paper I address the expansion of measurement into more intimate areas of life, specifically the focus by economists and policymakers on non-cognitive skills such as 'grit' as an explanation for social (im)obility. I describe the expansion of this form of measurement and discuss its effects on both public debate and the way individuals understand themselves. I suggest that while non-cognitive skills appear to be a form of 'human capital', there may be a stronger overlap with what social anthropologists call 'cultural capital' - everyday practices of being that convey distinction and naturalise disadvantage. I draw on two examples to illustrate this point: firstly, ongoing work with an entrepreneurship programme in South African townships, and secondly, the media attention surrounding the release of a UK parliamentary report into social mobility (the 'Character and Resilience manifesto'). In both cases non-cognitive skills are incorporated in a narrative of the shortcomings of 'the poor' where their characteristics, represented by measures that are ethnocentric and insensitive to class, are presented as an explanation of their poverty, drawing attention away from the political and economic systems in which they are embedded. I locate these examples within a broader debate over the increasing use of measurement within international development (for example, recent United Nations rankings of Multidimensional Poverty and Happiness) and its compatibility with discourses of evidence-based policy and results-based management.

Managing preschool the Lean way: turning work process improvements into numbers

Author: Renita Thedvall (Stockholm University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper examines how staff in the public welfare sector in a municipality in Sweden are working with the management model Lean in their daily work practices with a specific focus on the handling and struggling with setting measurable targets for the areas identified in need of improvements.

Long Abstract

The management model Lean has in recent years spread like wildfire in the Swedish public welfare sector. As other management models that may be categorised as New Public Management, the model is based on performance management, standardisation of processes and visual management with the aim of efficiency and quality (Rose 1996). One important ingredient in the model is to set targets that are measurable to show results and in this way visualising how the taxpayers' money is used in the form of numbers. The Lean model originates from the automotive industry and arrives with a set of tools such as the Lean Board where targets and improvement areas are made visual. The identified improvements area are dealt with in the so-called improvement groups, which consists of 4-5 staff members that are set to make action plans for improvement with the help of Lean tools such as "value flow mappings" and "moments of truth". The paper examines how the staff in the public welfare sector, in particular public preschools, in a municipality in Sweden are working with Lean in their daily work practices with specific focus on the handling and struggling with setting measurable targets for the areas identified in need of improvements. The paper shows the eagerness to comply with the ideology of numbers by putting efforts into making improvements in work processes measurable, while at the same time resisting what they understand as hard core statistics by e.g. introducing monitoring tools that include feelings and experiences of the improvements.

The normativity of numbers in aid conditionality

Author: Gerhard Anders (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

Aid conditionality relies on a characteristic normativity of numbers fusing legal and economic technologies. My analysis traces attempts to govern at a distance by inserting data collection and processing technologies into the legal and political order of countries receiving development assistance.

Long Abstract

Aid conditionality relies on a characteristic normativity of numbers fusing legal and economic technologies. My analysis of loan documents signed between the international financial institutions and African governments traces attempts to govern at a distance by inserting data collection and processing technologies into the legal and political order of countries receiving development assistance.

The legal construction of loan agreements, letters of intent, collection of numbers and systems of management and control provides a revealing perspective on national sovereignty and ownership. Numbers can acquire normativity in two ways: on the one hand, numbers can function directly as norms and, on the other hand, the introduction of specific data collection and processing systems might be set as condition. My paper will discuss the various aspects of the normativity of numbers focusing on World Bank and IMF conditionality as well as the ruses and tactics employed by human agents operating the systems of control and auditing.

The normativity of numbers thus reproduces state sovereignty as the foundation of development assistance and ensures standardized self-government in countries subject to aid conditionality. Although on paper the level of control and self-control is impressive the human agents operating these systems prove to be perfectly capable to evade or avoid efforts to govern by numbers as recent events in Malawi exemplify, where a major corruption scandal is linked to information technology introduced as conditionality.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.