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CFP: Rankings and the global governance of knowledge policies (ECPR 2015)

Panel title: Rankings and the global governance of knowledge policies

Abstract: Rankings and indicators have become central policy instruments in the global governance of knowledge policies. This panel investigates a specific phenomenon – university rankings – and how it reconstructs power within and across different geographical regions. Often linked to the international market economy, university rankings are now contributing to the diffusion of policy scripts and policy convergence.

It is commonly agreed, that global university rankings are not neutral instruments for making sense of external reality: (1) Claiming to be measurements of performance and quality rankings draw from and reinforce specific understandings of these qualities. Analysis of concepts, operational choices and discourses are ways for making sense of social rankings. (2) While university rankings have certain commonalities with measurements of physical quantities, most are inherently normative in depicting one end of the scale essentially ‘good’, the other ‘bad’ in a way that for example thermometers are not. The function of university rankings thus is both descriptive and prescriptive: they not only produce stand-point depictions of academic standings, they are meant to structure and steer policy-processes at all levels of decision making towards certain ideals. (3) As gross simplifications of complex reality – they allow easy comparisons between institutional units and political and cultural regions, they allow persuasive quantitative modelling and explanatory analyses, they allow attractive graphical presentations – they are disposed to receive attention in media and stakeholder groups all over the world. As such, annually published rankings are strong means to diffuse policy ideas and ideals. (4) The normatively framed comparative logic together with the high visibility increases competitive pressure between individuals, institutions, nations, and regions.

Many issues are still unclear or under dispute. In normative and political terms, there is no agreement about the worth of rankings and ranking practice in general, whether or not it is harmful by definition to assess academic practices in standardized terms of quality and performance. While some outright denounce university rankings, others take a more positive view in allowing that rankings may be beneficial for delimited purposes or in specified settings. In empirical terms, it is unclear how wide-ranging, deep and enduring is rankings’ role in global governance of knowledge. It is not yet clear if rankings will mainly push for policy convergence or foster differentiation: will global scripts be translated into local versions?; will we see real variation in institutional profiles as actors seek competitive edge over others? Lastly, while it has become common to state that ‘rankings are here to stay’, we may wonder whether the proliferation of rankings will at some point bring their demise: is it possible to uphold authority status as supply of rankings, measurements and data-sets increases?
The panel is open to theoretical and empirical papers that examine rankings as instruments of governance or governmental practice. The themes can be those discussed above or related; different perspectives across theoretical traditions are valued.

We are looking forward to your contributions. Please submit your paper proposals (title of the paper + short abstract + your name, institution and contact information) by email (ossi.piironen@helsinki.fi) no later than 26 January 2015 as accepted proposals will be in the final panel proposal. For further information see http://ecpr.eu/Events/SectionDetails.aspx?SectionID=417&EventID=94.

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