Project

Governing by Numbers: Key indicators and the politics of expectations

Goal: A vivid discussion on the role of indicators in politics, economy and society.

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Walter Bartl
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Given that education infrastructure has been a crucial element of the infrastructural power of the welfare state, surprisingly little is known about how spatial disparities in school infrastructure have been governed. While emphasis has recently been placed on the role of numbers in governing the education system, there have been contradictory results on the use of numbers for measuring spatial disparities in schooling on the one hand and on allocating school infrastructure by numbers on the other. What role have indicators played in the governance of regional disparities in education and how can we explain changes to this role? Assuming that indicators typically fulfil two functions in decision making processes (information gathering and allocation of resources), this article develops an ideal–typical distinction between four ways of (not) using numbers for governance purposes. This typology is applied to a historical case study of indicators as a device for governing spatial disparities in education in Germany. Cognitive investments in indicators for observing spatial disparities in education and for administering schools have been made in Germany since the early 19th century. However, conceptual flaws and conservative education policies have kept them from being put to effective practice in school infrastructure policies. It was not until the 1970s that demographic and administrative indicators became institutionalized as part of decentralized but fairly standardized school planning practices. While the use of indicators in the spatial allocation of education resources seemed to work well during periods of educational expansion, this calculative practice produced tension with the civic idea of spatial justice when enrolments declined.
Walter Bartl
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Dear colleagues, Lisa Knoll, a colleage from Halle/Hamburg, is co-editing a special issue of International Public Management Journal on Outcomes-based Contracting and Public Management Reform.
Please see the following link for more details: https://think.taylorandfrancis.com/special_issues/outcomes-based-contracting-public-management/ Best regards, Walter
 
Walter Bartl
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17:45 - 20:00 BRT Common Session: 16 The Politics of the Population Census: Key Indicators for Sustainable Development?
The slogan „Better Data, Better Lives“ of the United Nations Statistical Commission captures the widespread instrumental belief that better information, such as collected through the 2020 World Population and Housing Census, will lead not only to better collective decision making but also to better individual results. However, this instrumental view becomes debatable if we look at the performative effect of counting populations. By producing key indicators on the populations to be governed censuses shape the knowledge of democracies about its demos in important ways. The systematic description of standardised features of the population transforms the object itself by defining those to be included and the classification of subgroups. Hence, otherwise latent subgroups become visible by their operationalisation and description through certain indicators. For example, the US census created racial categories that ultimately came to represent heterogeneous populations as homogeneous and consequentially changed patterns of identification in private and in public life, which are very different from the patterns of identification in Brazil. On the other hand avoiding the application of existing social classifications during the production of population indicators, might contribute to a blurring of social boundaries but also to a neglect of social problems relating to particular subgroups. This common session aims at exposing the current state of the art on the politics of the population census and sparking a more vivid sociological debate on what some may see as a rather technical and hence uncontroversial field of inquiry.
Session Organizers and Chairs
· Walter Bartl (Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg)
· Christian Suter (University of Neuchâtel)
Oral Presentations
· 16.1 Brightening Race and Ethnicity or Keeping Them in the Shade? Political and Methodological Debates about the (De)Racialization of Official Statistics in 2020. Patrick SIMON, Institut National d'Etudes Démographiques, France
· 16.2 The Politics of Ethnoracial Population Data and the Future of the Census in Latin America. Mara LOVEMAN, University of California at Berkeley, USA
· 16.3 Census, Politics and Construction of Identities in India. Ram BHAGAT, International Institute for Population Sciences, India
 
Walter Bartl
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Bartl, Walter (2020): Territoriale Governance nach Zahlen: Finanzföderalismus, Asylföderalismus und Bildungsinfrastruktur. Deutsches Institut für Erwachsenenbildung. Bonn, 3/3/2020.
 
Walter Bartl
added a research item
Crisis-induced refugee migration raises questions of fair responsibility-sharing among political territories. This is relevant for nation states and for subnational territories alike. Theories addressing this problem have mainly been developed with regard to international responsibility-sharing. They assume collective action problems when it comes to organising intergovernmental transfer schemes, something which cannot be easily overcome. It is not well understood how effective transfer schemes can be institutionalised when no hierarchical decision-making is in place. Complementary to that perspective, this paper builds upon constructivist institutional theories that suggest paying more attention to guiding ideas, which can be called upon when intergovernmental transfer schemes are at stake, and to criteria of rationality that can legitimately claim to embody this idea. Legitimate criteria of rationality are typically the result of "investments in form", i.e. social practices which imbue material objects with certain qualities so that they stand for particular guiding ideas. The article tests this assumption empirically by tracing the institutionalisation process of the Königstein key (Königsteiner Schlüssel) as a dynamic formula for determining state quotas in Germany's refugee federalism. While important precedents of physical intergovernmental responsibility-sharing in refugee matters had already existed in West Germany, their translation to the territorial dispersal of non-German asylum seekers was highly controversial in the 1970s. In this case, resorting to the Königstein key proved to be feasible in part because, by then, the formula had already become a symbol of the idea of federal justice through its use in a variety of different and far less controversial policy fields. However, during the recent wave of refugee immigration it has increasingly become the object of critique.
Walter Bartl
added 2 research items
In der Diskussion um eine gerechtere zwischenstaatliche Verantwortungsteilung in der europäischen Asylpolitik wurden wissenschaftliche Vorschlägen gemacht, welche die relative Aufnahmefähigkeit von Staaten anhand von Schlüsselindikatoren bemessen. Allerdings steckt deren politische Verwendung bisher noch in den Kinderschuhen. Der vorliegende Artikel analysiert, inwiefern wissenschaftlich generierte Schlüsselindikatoren in der Politik Resonanz finden. Dabei werden Schlüsselindikatoren heuristisch als Grenzobjekte (boundary objects) konzipiert. Theoretisch sind Grenzobjekte aufgrund ihrer interpretativen Flexibilität in der Lage, Kooperation auch zwischen Akteuren mit divergierenden Orientierungen zu vermitteln. Die empirische Analyse von 13 Modellen physischer und finanzieller Verantwortungsteilung ergibt, dass wissenschaftliche Vorschläge ausnahmslos auf einer relativen Bemessung von Aufnahmequoten basieren. Mit der Konstruktion einer erwarteten Aufnahmequote gehen diese Modelle über das politisch etablierte Prinzip freiwilliger zwischenstaatlicher Verpflichtungen hinaus, das einerseits auf einer absoluten Quantifizierung der zu teilenden Verantwortung sowie andererseits auf der Konvention der souveränen Gleichheit der Staaten basiert. Die am häufigsten verwendeten Schlüsselindikatoren sind das Bruttoinlandsprodukt und die Bevölkerungszahl eines Landes, was sich als Anzeichen einer beginnenden Konventionalisierung von Modellen relativer zwischenstaatlicher Verantwortungsteilung deuten lässt. Gleichwohl beinhalten die meisten Modelle weitere Kriterien, die auf spezifische wissenschaftliche oder politische Kompromissanforderungen hindeuten. http://publikationen.soziologie.de/index.php/kongressband_2016/article/view/718
Audrey Terracher-Lipinski
added a research item
»Regieren durch Zahlen – Schlüsselindikatoren und Erwartungspolitik. Eine Einführung«. In this special issue of Historical Social Research, indicators are considered epistemic devices that render the world governable by quantification. While endowed with an aura of objectivity, indicators are not neutral devices. Instead they transform the world they claim to describe. Against the backdrop of a global proliferation of indicators, we argue in favour of research that strategically focuses on the processes that lead to the institutionalisation and systematic use of key indicators in politics compared to cases in which these processes fail. This type of research strategy could enhance the accumulation of systematic knowledge as well as the relevance of social studies of quantification. Furthermore, we propose a heuristic for analysing how indicators are involved in shaping imaginations of the future following the three distinct dimensions of meaning (factual, social, temporal) as introduced by Luhmann. We also review diachronic and synchronic approaches to analysing the genesis and use of indicators in order to derive testable hypotheses about the gap between indicator design and policy use. Finally, we introduce the articles of this special issue. Keywords: Quantification, key indicators, politics of expectations, genesis and use of indicators.
Walter Bartl
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Walter Bartl
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Public lecture at the University of Halle:
Emmanuel Didier (Paris, CNRS, EHESS): Different numbers, different government.
Thursday, 19.10.2017, 18.00-20.00,
Universitätsplatz, Melanchtonianum, Sitzungszimmer
Abstract: Nowadays, « big data » is everywhere. There is a clear excitement about them, which has been stated, for example, like this: •“One way to think about the issue today […] is this: big data refers to things one can do at a large scale that cannot be done at a smaller one, to extract new insights or create new forms of value, in ways that change the markets, organizations, the relationships between citizens and governments, and more” (Mayer-Schönberger, Viktor., and Kenneth. Cukier. Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live,   Work, and Think. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. p. 6.) This impressive statement, since it says that data will transform everything from the market to government, raises several questions. First,  is this really possible? Can information, quantities,  which describe elements of the world, can in fact really be actors, agencies for its transformation? How is this possible? Second question: is this that extensive? Can really these data change THAT many things, how far the transformation can go? Finally, is that so new? Did it ever happen before that methods of quantification had been a transformative force of societies?
To answer these questions, I propose to go back in the history of statistics since the beginning of the XXth century, and to study cases where quantification techniques had precisely been tools of governance, and thus a transformative force of society.
 
Audrey Terracher-Lipinski
added a project goal
A vivid discussion on the role of indicators in politics, economy and society.
 
Audrey Terracher-Lipinski
added an update
The program for the workshop is ready.
 
Audrey Terracher-Lipinski
added a research item
Workshop announcement and call for papers. October 5–7, 2017, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg Politics in the 20th century created a whole array of indicators, such as gross domestic product (GDP) or unemployment indicators, that became crucial for the structuration of entire policy fields. Politics in the 21st century, inspired by the new public management discourse, complemented this trend by developing not only more indicators but also by inventing new forms of regulation (Power 1997) and new ways of modelling political expectations about the future. In the sociology of quantification (Espeland, Stevens 2008; Diaz-Bone, Didier 2016), the relevance of numbers in democratic politics and democratic representation was among the earliest issues addressed (Rose 1991; Desrosières 2005). A basic assumption in this line of reasoning is that there is an inherently political dimension to what seems to be methodological or technocratic issues in the quantification process. While research has become more diversified, there is also growing need for systematizing theoretical approaches and empirical findings as well as pursuing a strategic approach in defining desiderata for further research so as to build a more coherent stock of knowledge about the politics of quantification. The planned workshop seeks to advance this endeavor by focusing on specific aspects of governing by numbers and particularly on the relevance of key indicators to a 'politics of expectations':