The Metric SocietyOn the Quantification of the Social
In today’s world, numbers are in the ascendancy. Societies dominated by star ratings, scores, likes and lists are rapidly emerging, as data are collected on virtually every aspect of our lives. From annual university rankings, ratings agencies and fitness tracking technologies to our credit score and health status, everything and everybody is measured and evaluated. In this important new book, Steffen Mau offers a critical analysis of this increasingly pervasive phenomenon. While the original intention behind the drive to quantify may have been to build trust and transparency, Mau shows how metrics have in fact become a form of social conditioning. The ubiquitous language of ranking and scoring has changed profoundly our perception of value and status. What is more, through quantification, our capacity for competition and comparison has expanded significantly – we can now measure ourselves against others in practically every area. The rise of quantification has created and strengthened social hierarchies, transforming qualitative differences into quantitative inequalities that play a decisive role in shaping the life chances of individuals. This timely analysis of the pernicious impact of quantification will appeal to students and scholars across the social sciences, as well as anyone concerned by the cult of numbers and its impact on our lives and societies today.
Introduction 1 1 The Measurement of Social Value 10 What does quantification mean? 12 The calculative practices of the market 15 The state as data manager 17 Engines of quantification: digitalization and economization 21 2 Status Competition and the Power of Numbers 26 Dispositives of comparison 28 Commensurability and incommensurability 31 New horizons of comparison 33 Registers of comparison and investive status work 35 3 Hierarchization: Rankings and Ratings 40 Visibilization and the creation of difference 40 On your marks! 43 University rankings 47 Here today, gone tomorrow: the market power of rating agencies 53 4 Classification: Scoring and Screening 60 Credit scoring 63 Quantified health status 67 Mobility value 71 ‘Boost your score’ – academic status markers 74 Social worth investigations 78 5 The Evaluation Cult: Stars and Points 81 Satisfaction surveys 82 Evaluation portals as selectors 84 Peer-to-peer ratings 87 Professions in the evaluative spotlight 89 Like-based reputations on social media 93 6 The Quantified Self: Charts and Graphs 99 Health, exercise and mood 101 The collective body 104 Motivation techniques 106 7 The Power of Nomination 111 The nomination power of the state 112 Performance measurement and the framing of competition 115 The nomination power of experts 119 Algorithmic authority 123 Critique of nomination power 125 8 Risks and Side-Effects 129 Reactive measurements 129 Loss of professional control 133 Loss of time and energy 135 Monoculture versus diversity 137 9 Transparency and Discipline 141 Normative and political pressure 144 The power of feedback 147 Technological surveillance in the workplace 149 The new tariff systems 151 The interdependence of self- and external surveillance 153 The regime of averages, benchmarks and body images 155 10 The Inequality Regime of Quantification 158 Establishment of worth 160 Reputation management 162 Collectives of non-equals 166 From class conflict to individual competition 168 Inescapability and status fluidity 170 Self-reinforcing effects 174 Bibliography 177 Index 196
‘In this brilliant book, Steffen Mau does not simply demonstrate the distortions that occur when excessive reliance is placed on statistical indicators, but shows how the current mania for measurement and quantification eats away at social relationships and even our sense of ourselves.’Colin Crouch, Emeritus Professor at the University of Warwick ‘Mau, a leading expert on inequality in Europe, is tackling a question of growing significance: the relationship between quantification, status comparison and social competition. His probing analysis offers a fresh perspective for understanding the brave new world of self-monitoring we live in. It offers convincing explanations for current anxieties of performance that are fed by growing inequality and neoliberalism. Influential in Germany, this excellent book should find a wide readership in the English-reading public.’Michèle Lamont, past President, American Sociological Association"A timely, informative and appropriately pessimistic book."Morning Star ‘A wide-ranging tour through rankings and ratings, stars and points, charts and graphs… the metric society may prove a means for faraway data overlords to capture power and entrench inequality in the guise of efficiency. It risks descending into a 21st-century dystopia that is almost as bleak, in its impersonal way, as those imagined in the darkest novels of the 20th.’ The Economist
Steffen Mau is Professor of Macrosociology at the Humboldt University of Berlin.
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