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SIEF2013 11th Congress: Tartu, Estonia.
30 June - 4 July, 2013

SIEF2013: Circulation

Tartu, Estonia; 30th June - 4th July


Rankings, contests, evaluations…: circulating ideologies of merit

Location Jakobi 2, 110
Date and Start Time 01 July, 2013 at 14:45


Markus Tauschek (Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg) email
Sabine Eggmann (Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Volkskunde (SGV)) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Today, competitive formats such as rankings, contests, evaluations and similar practices seem to be omnipresent. This panel has been convened to explore the cultural logics, the socio-political and economic ideologies and the circulating nature of this form of "audit culture".

Long Abstract

Over the past years competitions and similar cultural practices such as rankings, listings or evaluations affected many spheres of our everyday life: Media are in search of national superstars, extraordinary talents, the best dinner, the most beautiful girl and any form of superlative, companies award their best employees, and even scientific knowledge is evaluated and ranked. The ideological background of this circulating cultural phenomenon assumes that competitive formats enhance quality, merit and personal skills. Whereas competition as a powerful economic principle is broadly discussed, more anthropological research on competitive practices and discourses - here understood as a cultural logic with its own dynamics - is needed.

This panel invites contributions examining the complex ways competitive logics that one could also interpret as a specific form of "audit culture" (Strathern 2000) circulate through our lifeworlds. Additionally it seeks to document and critically discuss the social and cultural effects of circulating ideologies of merit articulated in concrete cultural practices: How do social actors who compete for different resources in performative formats such as contests or evaluations perceive their own roles, their skills and the competitive situation itself? How do competitive formats as a form of cultural performance work? How do social actors compete with each other in these formats and what are the sustainable effects, e.g. on identity building processes?

The panel invites presentations of ethnographically based case studies, as well as papers reflecting theoretical approaches on the circulating nature of a powerful cultural phenomenon.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


The emergence of a competitive self: some conceptual reflections

Author: Markus Tauschek (Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg)  email

Short Abstract

The paper discusses the cultural logics of various forms of "audit culture" and the circulating ideologies (excellence, quality, self-enhancement etc.) that foster the emergence of a new cultural

figuration - a competitive self.

Long Abstract

In many spheres of our everyday life, social actors compete against another. They compete for resources, different forms of capital, merit, honor etc. Today, competition as a specific and often ritualized mode of interaction seems to shape social relations in many ways. Competitive formats - such as rankings, listings, evaluations etc. - are discursively negotiated, but they are also materialized in performances and texts, in codified rules, in lists, certificates, medals etc.

From a conceptual point of view this paper will explore how competitive logics work, how they are translated into concrete cultural performances and which ideological backgrounds influence this process. Additionally the paper asks which actors shape competitive practices (as well as discourses about these practices) and how the concerned actors interpret their own roles within competitive webs of meaning. Finally the presentation will critically discuss the role of cultural anthropological research in identifying the circulating ideologies (e.g. excellence, quality, self-enhancement etc.) that foster the emergence of a new cultural figuration - a competitive self.

Dimensions of competitiveness in age-group road cycling

Author: Stefan Groth (University of Zurich)  email

Short Abstract

The paper asks for the motivations of hobby riders in road bike races. How are training and race efforts embedded in personal & professional settings of actors? How do guiding principles such as excellence, enjoyment, or team spirit relate to each other and other aspect of participants’ lifeworlds?

Long Abstract

Hobby races in road cycling have seen an immense increase. While the number of professional races in Germany has decreased, the number of participants and the level of professionalization of age-group races show how successful this format has become. Up to over 20000 hobby riders take part in races, and sponsored teams with substantial budgets, training camps and former professional and amateur riders are becoming more frequent. During race season from March to October, there is at least one bigger event each weekend.

While there is usually no prize money, riders and teams face considerable costs for travel, equipment and training. In some cases, the time spent for training can almost amount to the workload of professional racers, and training methods are quasi-scientifically monitored by power measurements and blood tests. There are reported cases of doping in hobby bike racing.

The paper asks for the motivations of hobby cyclists and the competitive dynamics on the level of local clubs, races and online media: how are training and race efforts embedded in the personal and professional settings of actors? How do guiding principles such as excellence, enjoyment, health, team spirit or discipline relate to each other and to other aspect of participants' lifeworlds? What influence do actual race rankings and virtual leader-boards on online-platforms have on the performances of hobby riders? The paper is based on interviews with road cycling hobbyists, cycling club members and officials from cycling associations as well as on participant observation at races.

Institutional logic of literary prizes: Estonian awards in changing times

Author: Kristi Raudmäe (University of Tartu)  email

Short Abstract

The system of literary awards is an evaluative value-generating institutional practice that acts as one of the phases in systemising and classifying literary works and authors. My presentation will examine how the logic of distributing literary prizes in Estonia has changed during their existence.

Long Abstract

Handing out literary prizes is an institutional evaluation process and the question is always focused on the value(s) - literary, economic or symbolic, that are dependent on ideological background. Examining the awarding process and its participants can show how the institution of literary prizes has influenced the evaluation of literature, also whether and how it has taken part in literary canon formation and also how the system of merit has influenced its participants.

The purpose of the literary awards in Estonia has been to highlight, respect or appreciate the respective authors or their works, the specific genre or in general the promotion of (excellent) (Estonian) literature. Due to the specifics of Estonian political and literary history it is possible to analyze the awarding system and values expressed with and evaluated in literary works in different frame of reference. Investigating the prizes, award juries, the principles of distribution and different aspects of the award system during four main periods in Estonian history (while being part of Russian Empire before the year 1918, during the first Estonian independence period from 1918 until 1944, during Soviet times from 1944 until 1991 and after regaining the independence) we can see how the process of literary evaluation has changed. Different ideological and political background has strongly influenced the literary field in general and also the logic of distributing literary prizes, it has affected the awarding process, the authority of the juries and most certainly the distinguished values.

Is it possible to "measure" politic cultures?

Author: Mauricio Hashizume (University of Coimbra)  email

Short Abstract

Democracy rankings designed by hegemonic way of life can be seen as a self-examination. When democratization is taken in the sense of contextualized process (more than transcendental procedures), it´s evident that barriers to interculturality are a main problem to a wide concept of politic cultures.

Long Abstract

There are several models of "democracy rankings" structured and publicized by academic studies and private institutions related on different criteria. Based on two classifications - the Effective Democracy Index (EDI), elaborated by Welzel and Inglehart; and the Democracy Index shaped by Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), linked to the british publication The Economist -, this paper intends to analyze the attempts to "measure" politic culture. Both initiatives assume that politic culture has a relevant "weight" on behalf of the "quality" of democracy in each country, but conceive it as a result of the institutional achievements of "developed" nations of the North. Through a postcolonial approach, it´s possible to put assortments like these, designed according to the western hegemonic epistemology, in the framework of "coloniality/modernity" enterprise. A set of contributions also presented by Boaventura de Sousa Santos in the molds of "sociology of absences" and "sociology of emergences" emphasizes the relevance of an "abyssal line" that divides the valid/visible and invalid/invisible knowledges, practices and existence itself of the Others (non-western societies). The adoption of idealized parameters of a universal, deterritorialized and timeless liberal representative model of democracy functions like a mirror: the two referred rankings in fact do not "measure" the level of democracy in another countries, yet see themselves´ image. Otherwise, EDI and EIU use widely public opinion surveys to underpin their respective rankings with quantitative data, supposedly shielded by scientific rationality. However, surveys did not privilege, for instance, barriers to interculturality, which can be a serious problem to democratization processes.

Academic culture meets administrational structure or vice versa? A case study of the actual attempt of "quality assurance" for the PhD process and certificate in Germany

Author: Sanna Schondelmayer (Institut of European Etnology)  email

Short Abstract

I will highlight the pratices and narratives that derive form the expectation at German Univercities to count and to register pdh-students, what hasen´t been done before. The actual call for “quality assurance” reinforces competitive formats that influence the pratice of everyday working life.

Long Abstract

Contrary to many other european countries Germany has no centralized system to register phd-candidates what is resently the subjet of intense debates from univercity management but also politicians; discussed over all as a big problem for evaluation, for applications for extra grands or so called elite applications and international rakings.

In summer 2012 I provided Interviews with 18 Persons of 6 different univercities(embedded in a bigger survey on the possibilities to register phd-candidates, iFQ/Berlin) on the formats and the pratices of the registraction of phd-candidates. The research shows, that the intaglement of individuel working patterns, the struture of the diverce audit cultures and the pressure to evaluate are very complex and divers in the institutions itselfs but even more between different univercities in different regions and "Bundesländer". In my presentation I will the pratices and narratives that derive form the expectation to count, to evaluate and therefore to register pdh-students. I will show how the "need to count" creates as well pratices of restistence, as of integration and competition I will show how the social actors involved compete for different resources and how the call for "quality assurance" (significantly increased since the "Fall Guttenberg"") reinforces competitive formats, which are not solely provided by the administration of the Univercity, but are created, invented or put forward by different individuals in the pratice of everyday working life.

Good grades or a fine place to be? Different approaches to the culture of merit in a Romanian school with Roma students

Author: Zsuzsa Plainer (ISPMN (the Romanian Institute for Research on National Minorities) )  email

Short Abstract

This paper

examines the differences between non-Roma teachers and Roma students/parents as

concerns evaluation and ranking. Through a case study from a Romanian school

with predominantly Roma children, I try to highlight, how successes of EU-based

educational programmes depend on culturally mediated expectations on what a

“good school” and a “good student” is.

Long Abstract

Romanian educational policies for Roma are shaped by European Union-principles: integration, anti-discrimination, desegregation. But, as the following case study on a Romanian “Roma school” shows, the EU-based programmes create but a framework for upward school mobility. Success of joining-up models equally depends on how trans-nationally recognized systems of evaluation and ranking are implemented in a specialized, Eastern European context. Techniques of selection and reward embody the culture of competition, responsible for tracking, and sorting out students, influencing future educational – and subsequently – life chances. In order to prove it, this paper examines those EU-educational exchanges that created new opportunities for school integration in an educational institution from Romania with predominantly Roma students, and also the way this framework is linked to everyday school experiences. Major aim of this paper it to analyze how non-Roma teachers, influenced by a transnational know-how, vs. Roma students and parents build up experiences on performance, grades, recognition and evaluation of school work. As empirical data show, the former use good marks and school attendance as criteria for evaluating the students, meanwhile these letters expect the school just a good place to be. Broadening this picture with stock-taking of some systemic traits of the Romanian educational system, and specificities of the local Roma communities (relocation from houses to blocks) I try to show how these views on merit are not individual insights but culturally embedded perspectives.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.