Accessible Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Oldenbourg October 18, 2018

How Rankings Produce Competition: The Case of Global University Rankings

Wie Rankings Konkurrenz produzieren: Am Beispiel globaler Universitätsrankings
Jelena Brankovic, Leopold Ringel and Tobias Werron

Zusammenfassung

Der Zusammenhang zwischen Rankings und Konkurrenz wird häufig unterstellt, aber selten genauer untersucht. Der vorliegende Aufsatz geht ihm am Beispiel globaler Universitätsrankings nach. Ausgehend von einem soziologischen Verständnis von Konkurrenz bestimmen wir „Ranken“ als eine soziale Operation, die vier Teiloperationen miteinander kombiniert: Vergleich von Leistungen, Quantifizierung, Visualisierung, und wiederholte Publikation. Visualisierung und Publikation stehen für die in der Literatur bisher kaum berücksichtigte performative Dimension von Rankings, die für die Analyse des Zusammenhangs zwischen Rankings und Konkurrenz von zentraler Bedeutung ist. Auf dieser Grundlage zeigen wir, wie globale Universitätsrankings zur Konstruktion von Konkurrenz beitragen: durch (a) Globalisierung eines spezifischen Exzellenzdiskurses; (b) Verknappung von Reputation; (c) Transformation einer stabilen in eine dynamische Statusordnung. Wir schließen mit einer Diskussion von Implikationen dieser Analyse für die soziologische Erforschung von Konkurrenz und ihrer gesellschaftlichen Effekte.

Abstract

It is often assumed that rankings produce or intensify competition while the way this happens remains largely obscure. We address this problem by analyzing global university rankings. Drawing on a sociological understanding of competition, we propose a concept of rankings as a type of social operation that combines four sub-operations: comparison of performance, quantification, visualization, and publication of the results. We particularly emphasize visualization and publication to highlight the often-neglected performative dimension of rankings. We then develop an explanation of how rankings construct competition between universities, highlighting the following three effects of this: (a) globalization of a specific discourse on university excellence; (b) “scarcification” of reputation for excellence; and (c) regular publication of findings, effectively transforming a stable status order into a dynamic, competitive field. In this process, competition for status is being converted from something implicit and inherently local into something explicit and globally acknowledged. We conclude by discussing general conceptual implications of this analysis for the study of the construction and societal impact of competition.

Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful to Gary Barron, Jeroen Huisman, Renze Kolster, Daniel Malter and the journal’s editors and reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of the article.

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Published Online: 2018-10-18
Published in Print: 2018-10-05

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