Ranking the World: Globalising Status Competition in International Society

16:00 - 18:00 | 14 February 2019 | CRASSH Meeting Room, Alison Richard Building, University of Cambridge.

Paul Beaumont (NMBU - The Norwegian University of Life Sciences, currently visiting POLIS, University of Cambridge) joins us for our third cum panis seminar to outline his current research.


Since the 1990s the number organizations that rank countries according to performance in social indicators has burgeoned. Yet, the political effects of rankings are poorly understood. To date, most research tends to investigate their methodological veracity rather than how to understand their influence on the social world. Addressing this lacuna, this article foregrounds the political consequences of these rankings by theorizing how presenting knowledge in rankings can engender a peculiar type of “status shock” that provides the discursive resources to legitimize policy reform. It is argued that rankings may operate as a status recognition conduit, whereby states grant it authority to allocate status in given policy fields. Problematizing status among peers in a given social hierarchy, rankings can, under some circumstances, set in motion a continuous process of status competition among the ranked. By way of illustration, the paper uses Norway’s response to the PISA education ranking to explore the mechanism through which these technologies affect their target population. The case reveals that the publication of PISA rankings in Norway induced a “status shock”, necessary to legitimate reforms and thus suggests further research is necessary to explicating when, why, and how global rankings instigate status concerns (or not).

Ranking the World Poster