Mirror, mirror, on the wall: Performativity and affectivity in the age of rankings

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Universities are living in the age of rankings. Everything gets measured and ranked these days: scientific output and its citation impact, the “quality” of academic journals, universities’ reputation, their selectivity in student recruitment, their student satisfaction, the labour market success of their graduates, the number of Nobel laureates employed by them, and so on. Rankings are so embedded in the very fabric of academia that it is difficult to imagine how, just two decades ago, we lived without them. This essay will argue argue that without an attentiveness to desires and emotions aroused by rankings, it would be difficult to fully grasp why we cannot just compartmentalise our identities and practices from rankings. And without an attentiveness to the power of rankings to shape our sense of self, it would be difficult to explain why their fantasies provoke desire, anxiety, joy and shame. We conceptualise this interplay between the performativity of rankings and our emotional affiliations to rankings as ‘performative affectivity’: The promise and threat of a quasi-objective performative mirror image of our –selves observed by distant others that ensnares us.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEGOS symposium 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - Jul 2020


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