Measuring the Value of Sociology? Some Notes on Performative Metricisation in the Contemporary Academy

Kelly, Aidan and Burrows, Roger. 2012. Measuring the Value of Sociology? Some Notes on Performative Metricisation in the Contemporary Academy. In: Lisa Adkins and Celia Lury, eds. Measure and Value. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 130-150. ISBN 978-1-4443-3958-1 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

The performative co-construction of academic life through myriad metrics is now a global phenomenon as indicated by the plethora of university research or journal ranking systems and the publication of ‘league’ tables based on them. If these metrics are seen as actively constituting the social world, can an analysis of this ‘naturally occurring’ data reveal how these new technologies of value and measure are recursively defining the practices and subjects of university life? Planning an RAE 2008 submission in Sociology required anticipation of how a panel of 16 peers would evaluate 39 institutions by weighted, relative worth of: aggregated data from 1,267 individuals who, between them cited a total of 3,729 ‘outputs’; the detailed narrative and statistical data on the research environment; and a narrative account of academic ‘esteem’. This data provided such institutional variables as postgraduate student numbers, sources of student funding, and research income from various sources. To evaluate the ‘quality of outputs various measures of the ‘impact’ and/or ‘influence’ of journals, as developed from the Thomson-Reuters Journal Citation Reports, was linked to the data. An exploratory modeling exercise using these variables to predict RAE 2008 revealed that despite what we might like to think about the subtle nuances involved in peer review judgments, it turns out that a fairly astonishing 83% of the variance in outcomes can be predicted by some fairly simple ‘shadow metrics’: quality of journals in the submission, research income per capita and scale of research activity. We conclude that measuring the value of sociology involves multiple mutual constructions of reality within which ever more nuanced data assemblages are increasingly implicated and that analysis of this data can make explicit some of the parameters of enactment within which we operate in the contemporary academy.

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June 2012Published

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05 Mar 2012 14:33

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29 Apr 2020 15:32


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